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June 12, 2013
When Perry Clark was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech and later a head coach for more than a decade at rebuilding Tulane, he regularly recruited in the south Florida region.
When he did, he usually stopped by the high school where Frank Martin was coaching at the time. Over the years, the friendship between the two men grew and prospered. Eventually, Clark served as head coach at Miami (2000-04) simultaneously with Martin's employment as an assistant at Northeastern in his first college job.
Even when Martin's reputation in the coaching industry propagated as he led Kansas State to four NCAA tournament appearances in five years (2007-12), he continued talking with Clark from time to time.
Soon after the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, Martin's first at the South Carolina helm, capable assistant Brad Underwood left to become head coach at Stephen F. Austin.
Suddenly, Martin had an opening on his staff. His first phone call was to Clark and before long, the two long-time friends struck a deal.
Thus, for the first time since the late 1980s, Clark will work on a daily basis as an assistant coach. But he's pleased to do it under Martin, who was hired 15 months ago to lead the Gamecocks' program.
"I've known Frank from when he was a high school coach in Miami," Clark recently told 107.5 The Game. "I've known Frank for a long time. I've always had great respect for him. So, when he talked with me about this, I knew his work ethic and the type of person he is.
"He really tries to push the kids to be the very best they can be. Philosophically, that falls in line with me. I was very excited when he talked to me because of the opportunity and the growth that I think this basketball program is going to go through over the next few years."
Martin described his vision for the USC program to Clark, who quickly bought in.
"Frank has a vision and a dream for this place, for this program and for these kids," Martin said. "When he started explaining to me what his vision was, I got excited. I felt like I wanted to be a part of it at this stage in my life.
"The greatest thrill and greatest achievement you can ever feel is when you have a dream and all of a sudden in two or three years, the whole world sees your dream and focuses in on that."
Clark said he agreed to join the USC staff following a month of talks with Martin. Initially, they discussed other matters related to college basketball, but the conversation turned in due course to the job opening.
"He said, 'Look, I know we've been talking about some other things, but I've got an opening and I really want to talk to you about it,'" Clark said. "He told me he wasn't really looking to talk to anybody else right now and that if he and I could sit down and work this out so I was comfortable with it, he wanted to make it happen.
"We had conversations off and on for about three weeks to a month just trying to figure it out. It happened that easy. He knew me and my background. He wanted me. That was something that made me feel good."
How confident is Clark that he will mesh with Martin and the rest of the staff? He accepted the job without specific parameters on what he would do.
"My background is as a head coach and being able to put together game plans, but I told Frank that I wanted to be wherever he needs him," Clark said. "I'm comfortable with doing it. One thing I've learned about Frank is he is very much about teamwork and staff.
"He cares very much about his guys being a part of what's going on and getting feedback from them. He wants us to say what we think. That shows the confidence he has in himself. It's just an environment I wanted to be a part of."
Clark said he is already at ease with Columbia based on his six seasons (1982-88) working as an assistant under Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech.
"I know all the stories," Clark quipped. "I pretty much know where all the bones are buried, too. I know the proud tradition this place has in athletics, especially in basketball. For me, it was a privilege for come here."
Clark has gained a reputation as an ace recruiter with connections in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Washington. Clark has signed 11 players from the Windy City during his length coaching career, he said.
"I have a lot of relationships from all over," Clark said. "Certainly, we want to go after some of the top players in the country. That's the way you build a quality program. But if you just look at the region from D.C. to Florida right now, there are a lot of awfully talented players. There are a lot of talented players in South Carolina and Georgia. If we can do a good job of just recruiting this area, I think we can have some success."
Since leaving Miami in 2004, Clark has spent the majority of the past nine years - four years as head coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi being the exception - working in TV and radio as a college basketball commentator.
Nevertheless, like most coaches whose careers span decades, Clark yearned to get back to where he's most comfortable - the sidelines, calling out plays and yelling instructions to his players.
"Broadcasting and doing radio and television was nice, but it doesn't have the day-to-day thrills that coaching does," Clark said. "I missed working with young people daily on the floor and in the office trying to mold lives. I really missed it. It's good to be back."
Clark is happy to take a small sliver of credit for convincing Martin to take the USC job in March 2012.
"We were at the studios of March Madness up in Chicago and he asked me about it," Clark recalled. "I told him, 'Frank, you've got to take the job. It's a great, great opportunity.'"
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