Frank Martin wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by without reaching into his bag of clever one-liners.
The SEC men’s basketball coaches teleconference made its 2018 debut Monday, allowing league reporters to fire away at the likes of John Calipari, Bruce Pearl and Martin. But before questions, the coaches are always allowed the chance to make an opening statement.
Here’s what Martin delivered on the brink of South Carolina trips to Tuscaloosa and Athens: “I’m trying to figure out what I did in the SEC office to set us up to have to play at Alabama, at Georgia, the week they play each other for the national championship in football.”
The Gamecocks (10-5, 1-2 SEC) face the Crimson Tide (9-6, 1-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday inside Coleman Coliseum. On Saturday afternoon, they’re in Georgia’s Stageman Coliseum to take on the Bulldogs (11-3, 2-1).
No matter the result of Monday’s CFP title game, USC is likely to be part on an environment that includes some sort of football celebration.
Just what the inexperienced Gamecocks need.
“So we’re going to go into one building, and they’re holding the trophy up at halftime, the place is going to be bonkers,” Martin said later at his news conference in Colonial Life Arena. “Seriously, who did we piss off?”
He then added: “You know I’m joking here now. You guys love to run with this stuff. You gotta be careful with these things.”
Whether in a charged-up arena or a library, these next two contests were always going to be difficult for Carolina. The Tide features the league’s top freshman and leading scorer in Collin Sexton. The Bulldogs have a prime candidate for league player of the year in Yante Maten.
What’s a big part of USC’s survival plan? Well, it too involves football.
Martin hinted Monday he could be sticking with the starting lineup that was rolled out for Carolina’s win over Vanderbilt.
That means tight end Evan Hinson again appearing as shooting guard.
The sophomore Hinson, starting for the first time in his career against the Commodores, scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in 13 minutes.
“Evan gave us what we needed with some toughness baskets from the perimeter, which we had not been getting,” Martin said.
Hinson, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder who played primarily on special teams for Will Muschamp, has been with Martin’s Gamecocks on a full-time basis since after the Outback Bowl win Jan. 1.
He logged 14 minutes off the bench against Missouri last Wednesday before replacing Frank Booker in the lineup three days later.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time; that was my first sport,” the Deltona, Florida, native said Monday. “The transition really isn’t that hard. So I’m good. I’ve played a couple games now, so my basketball game feels good now.”
Junior forward Chris Silva, South Carolina’s All-SEC candidate who scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Vandy, said Hinson’s presence on this year’s team has been “amazing.”
“He just came from football and the energy he still has, he gives the team a lot of energy,” Silva said Saturday. “His spirit, every time he steps on the court he makes something happen.”
Silva, who Mississippi State coach Ben Howland once called the “toughest, meanest guy in our league,” is a good judge of grit and knows what it means to Martin as the sixth-year coach continues to push the identity of USC’s program.
Hinson is a model Gamecock.
“He brings an aggression – there’s no other way to word it – that you only get when you put the chin strap on,” Martin said. “I always had football guys on my high school teams – always – because they bring an aggression that you have to have. And he brings that.
“He brings a certain level of toughness.”
Nick Saban and Kirby Smart would likely agree.
“I try to go out every game and bring my enthusiasm,” Hinson said, “because that’s just the way I feel about the game. I just go out every game and try to play hard, try to help the team out, inspire our team to play harder.”
Who: South Carolina (10-5, 1-2 SEC) at Alabama (9-6, 1-2)
When/where: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area