Frank Martin has made no secret of it — he thinks this edition of South Carolina men’s basketball is the most talented he’s had in eight years in Columbia.
But when the SEC preseason media poll came out Tuesday, the Gamecocks were in nearly the same spot they were picked last season .They landed at 10th, one spot ahead of last year’s 11th position. Unlike last year, Martin made his frustration known, repeating a certain word more than a few times.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s just, it is what it is. And that’s why I use the point about, we’ve been top 20 in the country for numerous weeks in my time at South Carolina. And I’ve coached in two league games where there’s not a single person in the media covering the game,” Martin said.
“So, for whatever reason, our successes aren’t celebrated. It’s disappointing, and it’s across the whole league, which is disappointing. I respect the coaches and the players in this league too much to be whining about a preseason poll. But I would just think that the folks that cover this league, now that I’ve been here for going on eight years, based on the guys we’re returning, based on our successes, that they respect us a little bit more.”
The poll, voted on by selected national and regional media members, has certainly missed the mark more often than not when it comes to Martin and the Gamecocks — over the past seven years, USC has placed better than its preseason projection five times, worse than it once and exactly as expected once. Over the past four years, Carolina has finished at least four spots higher than its preseason position three times.
“(They’re) definitely not evaluating us the right way, because they’re always wrong, we’re always the underdog,” sophomore guard A.J. Lawson said. “And we have the underdog mentality, so every year we just grind out preseason practices so when game time comes we’re ready. Definitely the underdog again this year, so I guess we have to do our thing and show people who we really are.”
Lawson, a projected first-round NBA draft pick, was also left off both the first and second teams of the preseason All-SEC squad, and that seemed to irk Martin as much as the team’s overall low position. He cited a run of Gamecocks who earned postseason honors, including Chris Silva, Sindarius Thornwell, Hassani Gravett and Duane Notice, that were all passed over in the preseason as well.
“A.J.’s one of the better players in the conference, he was voted All-Rookie, one of the top five freshmen in the league. I was disappointed that he was omitted,” Martin said. “You go back, that’s four years in a row ... where we had a first-team all-league player, sixth man of the year, defensive player of the year, player of the year. I would think our guys have earned based on past results, even with A.J., his being acknowledged as one of the better freshmen in the league, I would’ve wished that he would have gotten a little more publicity and a little more respect, for lack of better words.”
How much those snubs will motivate the team depends on the player. While senior Maik Kotsar dismissed the idea of the poll being bulletin board material, Lawson said he’s taking his own absence from the all-conference teams as a challenge.
“It’s definitely motivation, everything’s motivation. I always try to be the best me when I’m practicing, when I’m playing. That stuff motivates me to be the best I can be,” Lawson said.
“I feel like I’m a talented enough player and I should have been on it, but it motivates me to work harder and try to make it when the (postseason) list does come out.”
Still, as Martin looked back over his previous teams exceeding expectations, he said the issue was something that extended beyond Lawson and one season.
“I’m just a little disappointed our program isn’t given a little more respect,” he said.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN SEC PRESEASON POLLS UNDER FRANK MARTIN
2018-19: Picked to finish 11th, finished 4th
2017-18: Picked to finish 11th, finished 11th
2016-17: Picked to finish 8th, finished 4th
2015-16: Picked to finish 7th, finished 3rd
2014-15: Picked to finish 12th, finished 11th
2013-14: Picked to finish 12th, finished 13th
2012-13: Picked to finish 13th, finished 12th