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March 28, 2012
It was all smiles and pomp during Tuesday's introductory press conference, as Frank Martin pledged to turn around South Carolina basketball. The new coach seemed approachable and comfortable in his new home, stressing how he would accept nothing less than full commitment and promising great accountability in the future.
He also wanted to clear up something before it became an issue.
"I made some comments on CBS Sports about my experience as a high-school teacher, a high-school coach, and the next day, the headlines across the country were, 'Frank Martin pays players,'" Martin said. "That's not what I said."
Martin was defending one of his seniors at Kansas State, Jamar Samuels, who was declared ineligible just before the Wildcats' NCAA tournament game against Syracuse. The reason was an "eligibility issue," later revealed to be that Samuels accepted $200 from his former AAU coach.
Martin, disbelieving that Samuels would have what turned out to be the last game of his college career taken away for something so small, brought up his past as a high-school teacher and basketball coach. "Do you know how much money I sent to kids that played for me in high school when they were in college because I knew where they came from? I knew they didn't have a father figure?," Martin asked on CBS. "I'm not going to tell you who they were, but I sent them a lot of money over the years to make sure they could take their girlfriend out to the movies, make sure they could wash their clothes and do all the things that scholarship money don't cover.
"They don't have an option. It's not like they can work while they're in college. They can't find ways to make money. When there is no money at home, who is going to help these guys?"
The next day, many national media outlets wrote the story with the headlines of Martin paying his players. Martin labeled it "irresponsible journalism" on Tuesday and explained what he meant.
"I spent 16 years of my life coaching high-school basketball as a schoolteacher in the same inner-city community that I grew up in," Martin said, referencing his Miami heritage. "There were cheerleaders, there were band members, there were kids in my math class, there were players that played for me, that I became their father figure just like the teachers at that school were my father figure, because I didn't have a father at home.
"When those young men and those young ladies took the next step and went on to college, they didn't have $20 to get on a plane or go deal with airport expenses or whatever when they got to college. Our relationship was so strong that they had to come to either myself, different administrators in the school building, because we were their family."
USC, as it waits the conclusion of an NCAA investigation (for football, not for basketball, although assistant coach Mike Boynton was required to attend the NCAA hearing due to an association with a recruit that never signed with USC), needed to know that. Athletic director Eric Hyman obviously did his homework before signing Martin and presumably got that business cleared up, as well as a sticky part of Martin's past.
During that same period in high school, Martin was fired from Miami Senior High after it was revealed that several players on his final team there were living at addresses other than ones listed in the school database, sometimes in other counties. Robert Andrew Powell of the Miami New Times discovered the violations and wrote an expose for the newspaper, the Florida High School Athletic Association investigated and cracked down.
While Martin was never specifically investigated - and thus, never charged, found guilty or found innocent - the school was forced to return its 1998 state championship trophy due to illegal recruiting. Miami Senior High had won three straight state championships, but officially, as was mentioned in USC's release on Tuesday, the school only won two because the final one was vacated.
Martin went on to coach at Booker T. Washington High for a season before taking his first collegiate job at Northeastern in 2000. In his college career, no hint of impropriety has been attached to Martin, until he said what he said on CBS.
Tuesday was about clearing that up and moving forward. He didn't pay his players while they currently played for him; he gave them some money from time to time as a father figure to them once they moved on, just as he did for any other regular student that may have been under his watch.
"I wanted to clarify that situation," Martin said. "I've never paid a player in my life. Abiding by the rules is first and foremost on my agenda every single day. I would not be here if I did it any differently."
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