When a coach or athlete talks about political and world views, the public screams, “Stick to sports!”
Frank Martin understands, but the reason this game is on the schedule is for politics and sports.
“Maybe 50 years from now, there will be more than two Hispanic-American coaches. Maybe there’s six or seven,” Martin said while previewing Saturday’s game against South Florida. “We need to bring a little bit of light to that.”
History will be made at Colonial Life Arena when Martin’s Gamecocks take on Orlando Antigua’s Bulls. The two are the only Hispanic-American head coaches in Division I, and they see the game as an opportunity for other potential coaches to realize their dreams can be achieved.
“We have a responsibility, he and I, that I know we take a lot of pride in, in doing something and bringing attention to something,” Martin said. “Maybe we can open the door for them down the road.”
Martin remembers how difficult it was to get a shot in coaching, despite an immense love of the game and willingness to do anything. In Miami, before the NBA came to town and while the University of Miami was without men’s basketball, the sport still thrived in neighborhoods and high schools.
Martin was one of many Hispanic youngsters who wanted to be a part of it, and he had a mentor. Legendary prep coach Shakey Rodriguez gave him a chance as a Miami Senior High volunteer assistant JV coach to Sergio Rouco, the head coach.
Thirty years later, Rouco is one of Antigua’s assistants at USF. Rodriguez became the first Hispanic-American to be a Division I head coach (Florida International, 1995) and now one of his pupils is welcoming another Hispanic-American to coach in a historic game.
Antigua, who was one of John Calipari’s assistants before he took the USF job last year, struggled through a 9-23 inaugural campaign. Martin sympathized – he saw some of the same battles that he had when he first took over at USC.
But Antigua’s prowess at recruiting could pay off. His leading scorer, Jahmal McMurray, is a freshman and he found some great bloodlines at Navarro (Texas) Junior College two years ago – 6-foot-11 center Jaleel Cousins, the younger brother of former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins.
Martin is just starting to see the rewards of his system, which had several setbacks during his first three years, but now has the Gamecocks at 7-0. He likens it to the fight he and Antigua had on their journeys to head coaches.
Saturday’s game is about recognizing those.
“I have a responsibility to (Rodriguez) and all those other guys who worked so hard who opened up a door for me to have a chance in this business, to do the same,” Martin said. “I know (Antigua and I) both take unbelievable responsibility for that flag that we both carry. That’s why we scheduled the game.”
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USF (2-6) at SOUTH CAROLINA (7-0)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
USF’s probable starters: G Jahmal McMurray 6-0 Fr. (12.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Roddy Peters 6-4 So. (11.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Chris Perry 6-8 Jr. (9.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg); F Angel Nunez 6-8 Sr. (9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg); C Jaleel Cousins 6-11 Sr. (9.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (11.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (15.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks host Drexel at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15.