The social media age can be, and often is, cruel to those in the spotlight.
A hateful message, a negative comment is no longer yelled at an athlete or coach before a game, but sent directly to them, one tap of a screen from being read. Even if it comes from someone they don’t know, blocking it out isn’t easy.
This is something South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin knew well.
He told the story Monday at a meeting of the Columbia Rotary Club. The team had been surviving a rough stretch of play, getting to 20 wins, tied for first place in the SEC after a four-overtime loss to an Alabama team that was a bad matchup and a tight win against Mississippi State. But a home loss to a not-great Arkansas team gave way to road losses against Vanderbilt and Florida, and although the team was playing better, the streak gave rise to comparisons to a late-season slide a year prior.
“The outside world was all over our guys,” Martin said. “ ‘Here we go again,’ and you can’t avoid it because of these gadgets.”
Martin held his phone aloft as he continued.
“Kids can’t avoid it because every single kid is so consumed with these gadgets and so many people have access to them,” Martin said. “Whether they know them or not. Trying to keep those negative voices out of their heads is a challenge.”
The Gamecocks slipped as far as 20-8 before rallying to finish the regular season 22-9. Even an SEC Tournament loss to that same Crimson Tide squad, which could match USC’s size at guard and force the Gamecocks’ young frontcourt to deal with big, power post players, couldn’t keep South Carolina out of the Big Dance.
From there, Martin’s team made magic in the greatest NCAA Tournament run in school history, which ended in the Final Four.
That started with regrouping after the Arkansas loss. Martin felt negativity from the outside world seeped in, but it didn’t keep his team down.
“Our guys managed,” Martin said. “Our guys were unbelievable.”