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May 11, 2012
EVANS, Ga. - When Bruce Ellington revealed last year that he would attempt to play football and basketball for South Carolina during the 2011-12 academic year, the news was met with skepticism in some circles.
Accusations of "poaching" angered Steve Spurrier, leading to a well-publicized incident involving a local columnist prior to his weekly press conference in early October.
Don't anticipate any similar scenarios this year because new basketball coach Frank Martin embraces Ellington's decision to play both sports again.
"He's going to play both. I applaud him," Martin said. "It's hard enough to play one. It's more difficult to play two. I've been asked about guys who are thinking about leaving. Well, he's committed to represent the university in more ways than most athletes. That's what it's about. He's willing to sacrifice to represent South Carolina. That's how important this university means to him."
Ellington was USC's second-leading scorer last season, averaging 11 points in 24 games, including 11.8 points in 16 SEC games.
"I really like him as a person. He has some traits that's it's easy to see why so many people like him," Martin said earlier this week. "I respect the heck out of him. He made the decision not to run away from basketball. It takes a lot of courage to represent your school in two sports. A lot of people don't want the responsibility of playing two sports.
"How successful can he be? I don't know. When you have special athletes, they have a way of figuring out how to make a much bigger impact that what the rest of us think they can do. My expectations for him are great. I fully expect him to do what he's done all spring, which is to be fully committed to what we do. We'll find out how quickly he can make the transition from the football field to the basketball court."
Except for the transfers of Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris, Martin expects every other returning player to suit up for the Gamecocks in 2012-13. Including Ellington, USC should have no fewer than 12 scholarship players next season.
"My conversations with (current players) have all been positive," Martin said. "Unless someone goes home and changes their mind while we're on break between the end of the semester and the first summer session (classes start May 28), I don't foresee anything else happening."
Similar to Spurrier, Martin's main objective is capturing the conference championship. Once they accomplish that goal, the Gamecocks should be positioned nicely for the NCAA tournament.
"I have one goal and that goal will never change," Martin insisted. "That's to win a SEC championship. If God allows us to win nine in a row, my goal for the next year will be to win number 10. That will never change and I told the team that the first time I visited with them."
Martin and his staff (assistants Brad Underwood, Matt Figger and Lamont Evans) astounded many college basketball analysts by quickly inking four prospects to letters-of-intent following his March 27 introduction at a packed press conference at Colonial Life Arena.
"Our assistants turn over every stone every day," Martin said. "They find players in places that no one ever thought they would be at."
Even though USC finished 10-21 and 2-14 in the SEC last season under coach Darrin Horn, Martin has focused on the future and taken an upbeat tone on the recruiting trail.
"It's not my problem. Unfortunately, that's why I'm here now, because some people didn't have success," Martin said. "But that lack of success wasn't my responsibility. I don't talk about it when I recruit. I don't go into people's homes and say we were in last place last year.
"We tell them what a great university I work for and tell them about all the incredible things our university has to offer and the opportunities in front of us. The things that have happened here before and the things we're going to do to make it happen again should get people excited about what's in front of them."
Martin doesn't view his new job as being any more difficult or easier than the other 340-plus Division I coaching jobs in the country.
"It's no different than any other Division I job in the country," Martin said. "You have to get people excited about who you are every single day. It's not a given. Whether the job gets done or not, that's not written in stone. There is no book that tells you chapter-to-chapter what the next step is. If you're excited about who you are every day, you will surround yourself with people that are excited about who they are. The challenges here are the same at every other Division I job across the country."
Laimonas Chatkevicius (Fr.)
Bruce Ellington (Jr.)
Carlton Geathers (RSo.)
Thaddeus Hall (Fr.)
Lakeem Jackson (Sr.)
Mindaugas Kacinas (Fr.)
Damien Leonard (So.)
Tarik Phillips (Fr.)
Brian Richardson (Jr.)
R.J. Slawson (Jr.)
Eric Smith (Jr.)
Brenton Williams (Jr.)
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