Out of a job, Chuck Martin made sure to stay in the game last spring.
Puerto Rico born but Bronx raised, Martin has deep connections to the Northeast. That’s where Justin Minaya, of Harrington Park, New Jersey, was pondering the next step in his basketball career.
Minaya, an under-the-radar 6-foot-5 guard/forward, had mild interest from Division I programs. The senior at Old Tappan High School was also considering spending a year at Brewster Academy, a prep school power in New Hampshire.
Martin at the time was freshly let go from Indiana. As a Hoosiers assistant, Martin had Minaya, the son of former New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya, on his radar.
The relationship never went away.
“I’m friends with the dad, I know the dad really well,” Martin said, “and I always told the dad that I would help in the recruiting process. If they needed any help, I was here as a sounding board.”
Martin, on Minaya’s behalf, reached out to a number of college coaches.
“And, quite honestly, Frank was the only one that really responded,” Martin recalled this week.
South Carolina’s Frank Martin, then coming off a Final Four run, was looking to add a late piece to his 2017 recruiting class. He came north to evaluate Minaya for himself.
It was an efficient trip.
“I didn’t need to see him a second time,” Frank Martin said. “I immediately called Chuck and said, ‘Chuck, let the dad know I’m in.’ Because of the dad, I knew the values that he would have as an individual. And Chuck had recruited him at Indiana, so Chuck vouched for him as a human being.
“But once I saw him play I was like that’s a no-brainer, let’s go.”
Minaya committed to the Gamecocks on May 10. Chuck Martin was hired at USC on June 19.
Just over four months later, Minaya was starting for South Carolina in its first exhibition game. He scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds Monday as the Gamecocks rolled Erskine, 85-44.
“I was aware of Justin for about two years and got to know his dad,” Chuck Martin said.
“He was just a kid that was under the radar and he was under-appreciated, under-valued. Every time I watched him, I always walked away saying, ‘He could really play at a high level.’
“But back home in New York, there was so many other guys that he didn’t get the recognition or the attention or the credit that he deserved, which was good for me and good for us.”
Minaya is one of eight newcomers for USC this season. He joined Florida Atlantic transfer Frank Booker in the starting lineup against Erskine.
“I feel like he’s going to be a huge asset on our team because he’s a huge rebounder,” Booker said. “He rebounds better than any guard I think I’ve ever played with.”
Minaya averaged 19.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.8 blocks last season at Old Tappan.
His long frame – which includes 210 pounds – can lead to comparisons of great Gamecock guards of the recent past.
“I think Justin’s going to be a really good player,” Chuck Martin said, “but P.J. Dozier was tremendous and Sindarius (Thornwell), he’s currently playing major minutes for the Clippers. So that’s a big void to fill.
“I’m not quite sure that Justin is ready to step in from day one and fill that void, but I think over time, as he gets stronger and his confidence continues to grow and he starts to learn how we want to play basketball here at South Carolina and he starts to feel more comfortable with our system defensively and offensively, I think he can turn into a nice player, a good player.”
The Gamecocks close their exhibition season at 2 p.m. Sunday when they host Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech at USC
What: “Hoops 4 Hurricane Relief” exhibition game
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
How much: $10 for general admission
Donate online: https://crowdfunding.giving.sc.edu/project/8207