The city of Columbia might have proclaimed Wednesday as Frank Martin Day, but South Carolina’s new basketball coach isn’t ready to celebrate yet.
Martin spoke at a Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce breakfast to start the day, when Mayor Steve Benjamin made his proclamation, but he understands the real festivities aren’t going to start until the Gamecocks pile up some wins during basketball season.
“I’m honored, but I’m also somewhat embarrassed because we’ve yet to do anything. But I’m very thankful that Mayor Benjamin has done what he did here this morning,” Martin said. “We’ll wait until we feel good about the impact that we’ve made before we start celebrating. I like celebrating after the fact, not prematurely. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Martin’s work doesn’t just involve putting together a roster and a schedule for the coming season. It also involves building support for a program that has slumped in recent seasons from both a winning and an excitement perspective.
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He’s reaching out to fans through a variety of speaking engagements. He also served as the keynote speaker at the Community Relations Council’s annual luncheon later on Wednesday.
Martin said he knows making connections with supporters and reenergizing the fan base comes with the job. It’s the behind-the-scenes events where he hopes to build goodwill and galvanize support before the first game is played.
“Our jobs just aren’t as coaches. We live in the communities where we coach, and our job is a little deeper than just winning games,” Martin said. “We want to do our part to make the community better and to make an impact in positive ways.”
As Martin and his family have settled into the Columbia area, he has taken his high-energy show on the road to preach the gospel of USC basketball to the converted and the unconverted. He wants to let people know that the intense guy they see on the sideline during televised games is actually a positive force, one of the reasons he likes attending off-season events.
“I’m not into phony stuff. That’s just not who I am,” he said. “I do these things because I really enjoy them. When I come to functions like this, it gives me an opportunity to meet people and be able to spend time with folks in the community in a social setting and a comfortable place.”
He tells the crowd the reasons he left a winning program at Kansas State to come to Columbia include a tradition that dates to the Frank McGuire days and the strength of the school’s other programs.
He relishes the opportunity to get fans revved up about basketball again.
“The passion of South Carolina fans is incredible. They’re genuinely committed to their school. That’s one of the reasons why I’m here,” he said. “After being here for three months, I see it every day. I see it in every conversation I have. Will people be excited? Absolutely. Now we have to do our part to create that snowball effect of excitement.”
Martin said he realizes the team must perform at a high level to maximize that excitement. He doesn’t guarantee wins, but he does guarantee commitment, passion and effort from the players and staff. He insists to a roomful of people at Seawell’s that the Gamecocks will be the hardest-working team in college basketball.
“If we’re going to ask people to sacrifice their time and money to come support us, then we better make sure when they leave that building, regardless of the score, that they’re proud to be a part of what that team represents.”