In a season that has careened into a ditch, USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin will at least be able to spend this weekend commiserating with a kindred spirit.
Martin and Alabama coach Anthony Grant grew up together in Miami, played together on basketball teams both prep and recreational and, when the going gets tough, they turn to each other.
It was a year ago this week that Grant faced one of the most difficult decisions of his coaching career, suspending three starters for violating team rules when the Crimson Tide’s NCAA hopes were in doubt.
Martin, whose Kansas State team was one of the reasons for Alabama’s bubble status (K-State defeated Alabama in Kansas City earlier that season), was one of the first to call Grant when news broke of the suspensions.
“I’m proud of what you did,” Martin said in recollection this past October during SEC media day.
Martin said Grant’s reply was, “Frank, people are worried about the NCAA tournament? I’m worried about my program, not the NCAA tournament.”
As the Gamecocks (12-12, 2-9 in SEC) prepare to play at Alabama on Saturday, Martin said his current program finds itself where Grant’s team was three years ago — in the SEC’s basement. In trying to figure out how to survive the first five-game losing streak of his college coaching career, Martin said he is turning to Grant for the blueprint.
“Last year … they’re trying to build that program and it was right there, ready to make a run to get to an NCAA bid and he suspends three starters,” Martin said. “He wasn’t budging his program, sacrificing it for a win in January. It solidified his program and he still got in the NCAA tournament.
“It just goes to show you if you have core values and you stick to them and you do it the right way, good things end up happening for you.”
The suspensions happened last year, but since Alabama’s first season was so much like the Gamecocks’ current campaign, Martin said lessons are to be learned from Grant’s overall approach and demeanor, reaching back to their freshman year in high school.
“Work detail, competitiveness, one of the best human beings that ever came across my life,” Martin said. “When I’ve got to make decisions, I don’t make them without having a conversation with him first.
“He has an unbelievable way of thinking things through and he’s a winner through and through,” Martin added.
“I don’t care what the scoreboard says, I don’t care what the record is, he’s a winner through and through And he’s been like that since we were 14 years old.”
WHO: USC (12-12, 2-9 SEC); Alabama (16-8, 8-3)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: WOLO (SEC Network).
RADIO: WNKT 107.5 FM
SERIES: Alabama leads, 23-13
COACHES: Frank Martin (129-66 in sixth season; 12-12 in first season at USC); Anthony Grant (155-72 in seventh season; 79-47 in fourth season at Alabama)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: In addition to being friends off the court, Grant and Martin played recreational league basketball together when both were high school assistants. One day, Grant threw a pass to Martin barreling down the lane and Martin blew out his knee. “I’m still mad at him for that,” Martin said, jokingly … or not. … The first paper Martin wrote in college was for a Freshman English 1101 class. The subject was ‘most inspirational person,’ and Martin wrote about Grant. … Grant is 4-1 against USC, but Martin is 2-0 against Grant, beating him twice while at Kansas State, including last season.