Frank Martin recently saw a gentleman with snow-white hair at practice, and joked that by the time he got done coaching his current group of players, his dark hair, graying at the temples, would be the same shade.
At practice on Tuesday, Martin’s hair appeared much more gray than usual.
Has practice been that stressful? There’s got to be something that South Carolina does well, right?
“Aggravate me,” he quipped.
Four weeks of practice are in the books and USC’s first game is less than three weeks away. The Gamecocks will have a different look from last year’s 14-18 squad, with eight new faces, and Martin has been balancing working in his specific offensive and defensive sets along with seeing how his team meshes on the court.
The X’s and O’s might have to wait a few games, perhaps a full season, before Martin can get a grasp on what the Gamecocks are capable of doing and what they do well. But the intangibles are in place.
“They get along,” Martin said. “They respect each other. They’re trying their rear ends off to play through the structure we’re trying to put in place. Last year, we couldn’t screen. This year, when we screen, we screen.”
Little by little, Martin is figuring out the new personalities of his squad and is approaching the point where he can turn it loose on the floor. The first chance will be at Saturday’s Tip-off Tailgate, a scrimmage open to the public where the players can have some fun, playing for highlights instead of the season’s plan. USC Aiken visits for an exhibition on Nov. 3, and six days later, Longwood is at Colonial Life Arena to open the 2013-14 season.
The biggest challenge of dealing with so much youth is trying to get all of them to understand that they can’t freelance. In high school, most of them were the best players on the court every night. Now, they’re all part of a system.
“That’s the hardest thing to teach young kids, is that there’s four other talented guys on the floor with you,” Martin said. “It’s not about, ‘Let’s run a play for you and you just kind of go stand over there holding the ball, and everyone else get out of the way.’ You have to play offensively through your talent within the structure that’s in place. Then defensively, there’s no such thing as individual talent. It’s five against five.”
There’s also the matter of getting through the drudgery of preseason practice as the season approaches. Players are tired of playing each other. They want to see a different uniform.
“The worst practice we had all year was (Monday),” Martin said. “They actually came in here today and responded. Our guys took that personally. It was good to see. You can have the most experienced team in the world, or a bunch of kindergarten kids. You practice for four weeks, guys are tired of each other, they’re ready to go play and that’s part of it.”
The games are on the horizon, though.
“We’re just excited, excited for the season,” sophomore forward Michael Carrera said. “It’s going to be a great season. The freshmen are doing great, everybody’s doing great. We just keep getting better every day.”