South Carolina on Tuesday will try to snap a five-game losing streak when it travels to face nationally ranked Tennessee in Thompson–Boling Arena. The Gamecocks (13-12, 4-8 SEC) – by roster and result – haven’t looked like the bunch that was in the Final Four just 11 months ago. Frank Martin, with eight new players in the fold, has been on a season-long quest for leadership, consistent point guard play and on-ball defense.
Those basketball-related issues have been hard enough on the USC coach, but Martin on Monday revealed something deeper that’s caused heartache.
“The stuff with our players, it’s just part of the deal,” Martin said during a press conference at Colonial Life Arena. “I lost my godson. He got shot 11 times in late November. Then one of my closest friends, who was my assistant coach, who I saw his son born, was at work right before Christmas. He was loading a truck at his job. The guy got in his truck, didn’t realize he was back there and just ran him over and killed him.
“So I’ve had some family stuff that I’ve dealt with, too. Just stuff that you don’t plan on. You’re dealing with that and then you’re dealing the normal issues you have with your team, it’s kind of beat me up a little bit emotionally.”
On Nov. 13, Martin retweeted the Miami Police Department’s account, looking for information regarding the homicide of Malcolm E. Nicholas III. Nicholas, 18, was shot and killed. He was a standout basketball player at Miami Senior High School and Mater Academy Charter in south Florida.
According to PrepHoops.com, Martin, Nicholas’ godfather, was instrumental in placing Nicholas at Believe Academy (Athens, Tennessee) for a post-graduate year.
Nicholas, at the time of his death, was drawing recruiting interest from the likes of South Florida and Wake Forest.
“With Coach Martin being my godfather and being the head coach at South Carolina,” Nicholas said in October, “he said if I continue to improve and do what I got to do here, there could be an opportunity for me.”
Martin graduated from and coached at Miami Senior. Malcolm Nicholas Jr., Nicholas’ father, took the same route.
“I’ve had some personal stuff,” Martin said. “And we all have, it’s not like I’m the only one. It kind of all happened at the same time during the season in a year where we’ve got a lot more attention paid to our guys because we need to grow a little faster.”
South Carolina hasn’t lost six straight games since January 2014, Martin’s second season in Columbia.
The No. 18 Volunteers (18-6, 8-4) beat the Gamecocks 70-63 on Jan. 20.
“I’ve had some off-the-court stuff this year that’s pummeled me,” Martin said, “just emotionally drained me.
“But season’s the season. The losing never helps. You have a little more wind in your sails when you’re winning than when you lose games in February like we have, but at the end of the day it’s about managing personalities, it’s about going out there and trying to get better.”
Freshman forward Justin Minaya echoed his coach Monday.
“One of the things that Coach Frank has talked to us about is whatever happened in the past, you can’t fix,” Minaya said, “and whatever’s in the future is stuff you’re waiting on. So none of that is really real. So right now we’re focused on the present – each day, each practice – and just trying to get better.”