Over the past three years, South Carolina’s basketball programs, both men and women, have enjoyed historic success, with the men posting three straight winning seasons for the first time in nearly two decades and the women advancing to the Final Four in 2015 and winning a national championship in 2017.
The reasons for all that success are probably varied and arguable — top talent like A’ja Wilson and Sindarius Thornwell, good coaching from Frank Martin and Dawn Staley, strong fan support — but Martin himself offered a different idea Thursday, one that relates to the programs’ former home.
In Martin’s eyes, converting the old Carolina Coliseum, where the Gamecocks played their home games 1968 to 2002, into a full-time practice facility has played a pivotal role for both programs.
“I told (athletic director) Ray (Tanner) the other day, in a joking way, ‘Crazy how it works, you work your tail to raise the money to get us a practice facility, we win 51 games over two years and Dawn (Staley) wins a national championship. Funny how that works,’” Martin said.
In 2014, South Carolina announced it was renovating the Coliseum to install permanent practice courts for the men’s and women’s teams in October of that year. Previously, the building had hosted musical concerts, high school graduations and sporting events after the Gamecocks moved into Colonial Life Arena in 2002.
In addition to practice courts, both programs also have office spaces and locker rooms in the Coliseum.
When the move was first announced, Martin and Staley praised it, saying it was in “the best interest of our basketball student-athletes.”
“With a court dedicated to our program, we will have more flexibility in practice times, and our players will have the ability to work on their own as much as they can and want to,” Staley said in 2014. “The university and the coliseum staff have been so helpful as we push our basketball programs farther, and this is a great next step in that effort.”
Three years later, Martin repeated the same message, arguing that his players spend more of their free time practicing and improving now that they have a facility dedicated just for them.
“My bosses have done something we never had here,” Martin said Thursday. “They created the old Coliseum into a practice facility. My offices are in that building. For (players) to get in there, they have to walk by. Our guys are staying in the gym. I’m not allowed on the court while they’re shooting balls, but they’re in there all day, all night. It’s fun. I can tell you this, three years ago, that wasn’t the case, because we didn’t have a practice facility. Now we have one, it’s funny, kids don’t hang out, they actually go into the gym to shoot hoops.”