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September 30, 2013

Martin eyes big picture

Don't call it a struggle, don't call it a disappointment, and God help you if you call it a failure.

Whatever negative words you may choose to describe a losing 2012-13 men's basketball season in which South Carolina finished 14-18, 4-14 in the Southeastern Conference, do so at your own risk, because head coach Frank Martin won't be using any of them.

It's not because he doesn't understand they apply from an outsider's perception; he gets that and is actually OK with it. It's because he sees last season as more than a record, more than something to be graded, more than a one-and-done deal. For Martin, last season was the beginning of a story, a first chapter, not a book unto itself.

"You might view last season as a struggle," Martin said when asked by a reporter whether last season's struggle motivated him for this season. "I view it as us laying a foundation.

"Some people might say, 'Well, your team wasn't any good,' and I'll tell you I thought we were OK. Now if you want to judge me and my team based on our record, that's fine. You have that prerogative. We laid a foundation for what we're about.

"It's not about disregarding last year. It's not about disliking last year. It's about embracing last year and continuing to build. That's what we have to focus on here. Last year, listen. When I got hired here, we were in dead-last place in this league. We weren't going to go from last to first in three months. It takes work, it takes building, it takes patience. We're right in the middle of that now, and we're excited where we're at. Last year was a great, great thing to be a part of to make us appreciate how much work we have to do and how far we have to come."

Do not get Martin wrong - if anyone wants to win more than he does, well, you're free to tell him that to his face. But he also understands the bigger picture, the longer view, and it's a perspective that has served him quite well for nearly 30 years as a coach.

"When we play on Saturday, win or lose, and I'm watching film and we practice Sunday for that Tuesday game, nobody expects to win more than me. Nobody," Martin said. "I don't put expectations on records. I don't put expectations on anything that's materialistic. My expectations are for this program to compete for an SEC championship.

"When that happens, I don't know. But that's my expectation every day, and for every one of our guys to get better every single day. That's where all my energies and focus is to help those two things be accomplished. As long as I keep it on that, and not the ups and downs of a game or a record, things have worked out for me for 29 years and I would hope it can keep going that way."

With South Carolina opening its first practice of the 2013-14 season this morning, Martin knows the expectations will be higher this season, especially with a lineup full of fresh faces - eight, to be exact, on a roster of 16.

"New guys are part of the business," Martin said. "For anyone to ever sit around and say, 'Oh, we're too young,' that's part of the business. The part that makes the business easier to do year to year are the returning guys, and we have a core of guys that played major minutes last year that understand.

"They comprehend me, I comprehend them. There's direction now for those first-year guys, where last year none of those guys had direction. I was trying to figure them out, they were trying to figure me out."

The biggest returning contributors are sophomore forward Michael Carrera (9.9 ppg.) and senior Brenton Williams (11.1 ppg). Martin said Carrera, who battled injury throughout his freshman year, should flourish now that's he's healthy - if he can keep his emotions under control.

"Usually when you're a high-strung player like he is that plays on emotion, when you're not physically fit to sustain, that emotion tends to take you to places that you don't want to be at," Martin said. "That's what happened to him sometimes last year.

"He couldn't sustain, and that emotion would lead to bad fouls and lose his focus on what we were trying to do, and he'd kind of get wrapped up in his own moment. Based on what I've seen in one-hour practices, which is all we've done, he's way ahead where he was at last year because he can sustain effort right now. What makes Mike special is that emotion that he brings to the table every day. That's also his weakness. As he continues to mature as a player and manages (the emotion), that will determine how good he can become."

For Williams, Martin said the key to success is appreciating what he brings and not asking him to be something he's not - a vocal leader.

"Brenton has to be who he is," Martin said. "You can't force him.

"I've learned this over life - you can't make people do things they're not comfortable doing. Brenton has to be the best Brenton Williams he can be. He's done a great job of growing as a player, and he's probably in better shape than anyone on our team, and that's important. That's a senior leading in his own way."

With the season starting Nov. 3 with a game against USC-Aiken, Martin said both he and his team are fired-up to begin writing the next chapter of the Gamecock program.

"They're excited," Martin said. "Throughout the summer and the first four or five weeks, (we had) two hours a week (to) try to figure out a way to teach the parts of the whole. Now here, we get to teach the whole and connect those parts, and hopefully, about a month from now, be able to resemble a basketball team and go out and compete in front of people, referees, the cameras, the whole thing."

One thing about that book - the picture on the dust jacket may need updating.

"Take a look at what I looked like the day I got hired and see what I look now," Martin said when asked how he's dealt with the journey thus far. "The hair is a little whiter and there's a bigger spot on the top of my head, and that's going to continue to go that way with these guys, but they're great.

"It's great (being back)."

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