Might as well have fun with it now that fun times appear to be here.
Frank Martin cheerfully mugged with a board of full-size emojis on Wednesday at SEC Tipoff, although his happy face was quite the opposite of some of his game-day expressions. But that’s the point, really – the side of Martin that the public rarely sees could be on fuller display this season.
Martin’s Gamecocks were picked to finish seventh in the SEC in the preseason media poll, their previous highest finish since the league quit divisional play being 12th. His first three seasons have been filled with losses and criticisms from some fans who see only the contorted screaming, because that’s what the concentration is on when there aren’t enough wins.
Now, the bad times seem to be going away. South Carolina basketball hasn’t had this kind of excitement around it since the 2009-10 season, when USC was coming off the second SEC East championship in program history.
The results should be quite different.
“You’d rather be spoken about in preseason than not,” Martin said. “That creates excitement. In our locker room, that doesn’t mean a thing. But it creates an atmosphere with your fan base, with your community, your campus, where people say, ‘You know what? They’re gonna be good.’ ”
It’s a long season and three weeks until the first game, but player representatives Duane Notice and Mindaugas Kacinas hear the buzz as well. It’s the product, they said, of a coach that never quit believing in them and a support system that built them into men first and players second.
“If you’re not really in the circle, on the outside looking in, you can kind of speculate,” Notice said. “When you’re inside it, you can see that it’s all passion that he’s displaying. He just cares, and that’s what it is. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be as passionate as he is.”
“A father figure and a friend for life,” was how Kacinas described Martin. “Whenever you’re in trouble or there’s something bothering you, you’ll always be able to come back to Frank and ask questions and ask for help because he will have your back.”
The relationships run so deep that his players always refer to him as “Frank” – not “coach” or “sir.” Martin has seen it pay off with his veterans – when he first got them, getting to now was a dream.
Now it’s reality.
“Our relationship, player-coach, is that big of a window,” Martin said, holding his thumb and forefinger two inches apart. “Our relationship in life, God-willing, is a lot longer. They’ve acted in a way that three years ago, I kind of crossed my fingers and I said, ‘I hope we can get this to there one day.’ Now we’re seeing it and it’s exciting to have guys like that on the team.”
The Gamecocks have talent and depth this year. They have a lot of players who went through struggles and mind-numbing losses to still succeed.
They haven’t won as much as they’d like, but they’re prepared to do so now. The foundation of team chemistry has been laid, and it’s time to construct the house.
“I feel like part of the staff,” Kacinas said. “I’ve been here four years, I’ve been with Frank so, so much. He’s my coach but he’s a really, really good friend.”
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState