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May 10, 2013

Martin wants UNC hoops rivalry revived



ATLANTA -- South Carolina will face North Carolina twice on the gridiron in the next three seasons.

The two women's basketball programs have played nearly every year, typically in Myrtle Beach.

Now the time has come for the men's basketball teams at USC and UNC to step up to the table and revive a dormant rivalry.

Despite sharing a border hundreds of miles in length, the Gamecocks and Tar Heels have squared off just once on the hardwood since the 1996-97 season. And that meeting happened two thousand miles away in Las Vegas in November 2011, when a top-ranked UNC team overwhelmed USC 87-62.

USC coach Frank Martin, though, wants to change that, saying he welcomes the opportunity to take on North Carolina.

"I haven't spoken with coach (Roy) Williams about it, but I think that would be awesome," Martin said on Thursday. "We're playing them in football, they're the neighboring state, there are only two states in the entire country with the name "Carolina" on them. They're one of the elite programs in the country. It would be an honor to for us to compete against them."

Renewing the North Carolina rivalry would help fulfill Martin's goal of enhancing USC's non-conference slate, which he contended on every stop of the just-concluded Fan Fest tour wasn't difficult enough last season.

"I like playing against the real good teams," Martin said. "If our program is going to be any good, we have to be prepared to compete against them. It would be tremendous for the alums of both schools, for both states, for both communities.

"I would like to engage in that conversation. Our program needs that. If we want our program to be good, we have to line up and play everybody that's good. And North Carolina is as good as it gets."

Besides getting North Carolina on the schedule, Martin doesn't rule out facing other ACC schools in addition to the annual Palmetto State battle with Clemson. Actually, he's puzzled why it hasn't happened more in the past.

"I don't know why that hasn't happened before," Martin said. "I have never asked anybody at South Carolina why that hasn't worked. Personally, I'm attracted to that. There are so many good schools and quality basketball programs within a three-hour drive that it doesn't make any sense for us not to play more of those teams."

What are the odds of a home-and-home series with Miami, which would afford Martin a homecoming to the city where he started his basketball coaching career in the high school ranks?

"If we can work that out, I'm not against it," Martin said. "That's an area we recruit. So it's appealing. You'd love to take your product back in front of the people that raised you, so they can be proud of what you're out there doing."

The impetus to resuscitate the hoops rivalry could be the close friendship between USC baseball coach Chad Holbrook and Williams, who sat in the USC dugout last week as the Gamecocks took on Vanderbilt at Carolina Stadium.

Williams bid $3,000 at the Reece Holbrook Win Anyway Foundation benefit in 2012 to sit in the dugout with the Gamecock coaches and players during a USC home game.

"I have a lot of respect for (Williams)," Martin said. "What he has done speaks for itself. The kids do right and play the game the right way. When coach (Williams) and I see each other, we always talk about Chad. Obviously, Chad and his wife are very dear to Roy."

Right now, the only major sport in which USC and UNC face off regularly is women's basketball. The rivals didn't play last season due to scheduling issues, but plan to meet again in December. They clashed three straight years from 2009-11 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

The Gamecocks routed UNC 79-48 in the last meeting between the schools on Dec. 18, 2011.

In a way, USC coach Dawn Staley has been ahead of the curve in her propensity to get UNC to come to the hoops table.

"Our program was measuring ourselves a few years ago against the tradition of North Carolina," Staley said. "Now we're in a position where we can actually compete and win that particular matchup. I'm excited to do that every single year because it's always a great game and when you can be competitive, why not? It's something we can use as a recruiting tool, to know we're going to play a rival like North Carolina."

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