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June 14, 2012

Baseball's success excites Martin



Frank Martin grew up in Miami in the 1970s as a rabid Cincinnati Reds fan.

At the time, the Big Red Machine had a slugging first baseman named Tony Perez, a hero in the Cuban community that resided in South Florida. Teammates like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan received more notoriety, but the less-heralded Perez, Martin's favorite player, was the glue that held the Reds together.

So baseball was hardly a foreign sport to Martin when he arrived in Columbia in late March as South Carolina's new basketball coach.

He was also aware of USC's astounding success lately under Ray Tanner, having attended at least one USC game at the 2010 College World Series.

In his 2-1/2 months since accepting the job, Martin has experienced first-hand what makes Tanner and the Gamecocks, now in Omaha as their quest for a third consecutive College World Series title rolls on, fire on all cylinders when May and June roll around.

Martin attended the Super Regional against Oklahoma along with his family and was impressed by the intensity in the ballpark, both on the field and in the stands.

"I eat it up. It's great baseball, a great atmosphere and a winning team," Martin told 107.5 The Game on Wednesday. "My entire family and I enjoyed the moment and watched a heck of a baseball team that knows one thing - winning. They make all the right plays. That's a credit to what those coaches have built there and the senior leadership from guys like Michael Roth.

"I'm very excited that I'm finally able to see this team. I've been watching them from afar. And now I've watched them up close and gotten to know coach Tanner a little bit, it's awesome."

It's been a while since Colonial Life Arena has seen boisterous crowds for men's basketball, but seeing the environment at Carolina Stadium during the Super Regional makes Martin hopeful.

"When you go in there and see them stacked up, standing-room-only six and seven rows deep, it gets me excited about what can happen at Colonial Life Arena if we line up and play the game the right way and win some games," Martin said.

The extent of his interaction with Tanner and the other USC coaches has been a pleasant surprise for Martin since he decided to leave Kansas State.

"It's been awesome. That's one of the things in my transition that has been incredible," Martin said. "(Tanner's) been very accessible to me, and so has Steve Spurrier, Dawn Staley and all the coaches. There's an atmosphere here among the coaches that is phenomenal. There is a sense of respect towards each other and towards their programs. (The new coaches) have yet to do anything here and I've been accepted right away as one of them. I'm excited as can be."

Prior to watching the Gamecocks earn a third straight trip to Omaha by sweeping Oklahoma in two games, Martin served as a court coach during the USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team training camp held June 5-7 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Florida's Billy Donovan is the coach of the USA U18 National team and the top two assistants are Mark Few from Gonzaga and Shaka Smart from VCU.

"It's been a dream of mine to get involved with USA Basketball," Martin said. "What an awesome feeling to line up and put on a shirt that says 'USA' on it. You're contributing in some way, shape or form to help build a team that's going to represent your country. When I was afforded that opportunity, I almost came out of my shoes.

"It was a great experience. The players were great to be around. There were guys that we had recruited (at Kansas State) and had relationships with, so it was easy to get to know them. It was a heck of a moment for me, personally."

Before heading to the Rockies, Martin participated for the first time in the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., on May 31-June 1. While there, the 14 men's basketball coaches approved the format for an 18-game conference schedule (1-4-8 format: one permanent opponent, two games against four rotating opponents and single games against eight opponents every season) and the bracket for a 14-team conference tournament that gives double byes to the top four teams.

"It was a first-class event," Martin said. "I kind of kept my mouth shut and did a lot of listening. I did speak up on some things that I have opinions about, some general basketball-related issues. I listened more than I spoke. It was impressive how united the basketball coaches in this league are in making sure they represent SEC basketball the right way."

Last season when Martin was still at Kansas State, the Big 12 (only 10 teams) played 18 conference games in a home-and-home format against the other nine schools in the conference. Obviously, that's impossible in a 14-team conference.

"Everybody came to a consensus that (1-4-8) was the best scheduling format that could be put together," Martin said.

USC's permanent opponent is Georgia, although Bulldogs coach Mark Fox politicked for Florida or Auburn. However, TV executives wanted Kentucky-Florida and Auburn's permanent opponent is, naturally, bitter rival Alabama.

"Based on proximity, that made sense to me," Martin said. "I was OK with it."

NOTES

* Martin said that he and his family might make the trip to Omaha to watch the Gamecocks in the College World Series.

* Martin said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive called him shortly after he was hired by USC.

* Martin said he had hoped the 2012-13 non-conference would have been released by now, but "one little snag" remains. It could possibly be released next week, he said. The SEC announced that it will release the conference schedule in August.

* Although USC has already signed four players for 2012-13, Martin hinted that his staff is not done as far as recruiting for next season. Martin likes to announce the entire signing class at one time, so nothing has yet come from USC. "I like to announce everybody at once," Martin said. "We've been scrambling trying to fill our 2012 class. We're close to finalizing that. That should be released shortly, probably around the fourth of July."

* USC is scheduled to make two trips to New York in 2012-13. The Gamecocks will face St. John's in the SEC/Big East Challenge and Manhattan at the Brooklyn Nets' new arena. The largest city in the country has been fertile recruiting territory for Martin and his coaching staff for several years. "I love recruiting there," Martin said. "This will be a chance to take our program into the so-called 'Mecca of college basketball.' It's a great opportunity."

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D. McCallum


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