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October 17, 2013

Martin: Chemistry, depth key in 2013-14

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - South Carolina was picked twelfth in the SEC by the media at the 2013-14 SEC Basketball Media Days.

The one person that impacts the most - head coach Frank Martin - also is the one it concerns the least.

"I could care less," Martin said. "I had the great fortune of coaching a team that was picked number one, and by the end of January we were second-to-last. By the end of the season, we were one of the top 30 teams in the country again.

"It's one of those things where the season is a roller coaster. Don't get me wrong. I'd much rather be in a place where everyone thinks we're real good and we're picked number one. That means our fans will be excited, it means our players have a responsibility to stand up to. I'd much rather be on that side. But it's all irrelevant. We gotta deal with the season, and whether you're picked first or last, you still have to prepare and play every game on that schedule."

What gives Martin confidence that he can improve on last season's four conference wins is simple - better bodies, better minds.

"We're bigger, we're longer, we're thicker," Martin said. "When we took the court against Kentucky last year, our starting five was five-nine, five-ten, five-eleven, six-four, six-five. I look out there and Kentucky's guards are six-four and six-five. I kind of sat back and I told our assistants, we need to find some of these young guys like they've got, and our staff did a great job.

"They went out and identified guys who fit who we are, that give us better length, better girth. Now we have to teach these young kids how to play and utilize that length and that size."

Where that youth could set the team's development back a bit, however, is from a leadership standpoint. Martin confessed that he hopes the only senior on the team, Brenton Williams, can provide that; however, he also realizes that may be asking too much of his Kissimmee, Fla., guard.

"We all think, me included, that because he's our lone senior that he's supposed to be a team leader," Martin said. "I pressure him into trying to do that sometimes, but he has to be comfortable in his own skin. He has to be the best Brenton Williams that Brenton Williams can be. He can't be someone that I ask him to be or the expectations others cast on him.

"He's been great. Last year was kind of a roller coaster of emotions for him. He started off the year playing, then he went through a stretch of the year where I couldn't put him in the game because he wouldn't defend, and that at the end of the year he scores thirty-eight, an SEC record for South Carolina basketball, a Colonial Life Arena record. Thirty-eight points.

"You don't score thirty-eight points in an SEC game unless you find a way to put the ball in the basket. He's grown tremendously."

Williams, USC's player representative in Birmingham, would second that motion.

"I think I can (be a 15-point guy)," Williams said. "I think I have the ability to do it and the coaches have confidence in me to do it after they saw me do it last year.

"A light went on toward the end of the year, and I started to play to my potential. The (S.C.) Pro Am was definitely a big confidence builder over the summer. I was going against other college players from other schools and players like Devan Downey came back to play, Carlos Powell, it was great."

After joking that his bald spot would be the strength of this team - "Hopefully light reflects off of it and gets in people's eyes and they miss shots," he said, joking - Martin said what impresses him most about his team this year is its chemistry.

"We've got an unbelievable personality on our team," Martin said. "We have a camaraderie, this excitement. Every guy that's on our team right now, they know what they signed up for. They signed up to accept the responsibility of rebuilding this program. We need to have unbelievable enthusiasm and excitement to go in there every day and not listen to outside opinions but believe in the internal opinions and rely on each other until the day that corner gets turned.

You don't know when it's going to get turned or if it's going to get turned. All you know is that to have a chance to turn it, you better do your best every day and help everyone on your side you can every day. Still, there's no guarantee there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Those kids get that, and it's fun to be around."

Asked when that corner may be turned, Martin said he thinks it'll be sooner than later.

"Here's what I do know," Martin said. "We won four league games last year, and we had the lead inside the last media timeout in another six games that we lost.

"We couldn't close out games. At the end of the game, you have to have guys that can make a basket. We could never get there. We could never make that basket when we had to have it coming down the stretch."

Now, Martin has more options, talent and depth than he could dream about a season ago. Getting the best out of them and developing an identity is what's next on his preseason to-do list, especially on the defensive end.

"I try to instill as much confidence as I can on the offensive side, so when I go through my moments it's usually on the defensive side," Martin said. "I get mad at defense because we spend so much time on the defensive side of the floor trying to teach techniques.

"I really think that rebounding and defense have to be the heart and soul of your team if you want to compete for a championship. That's where I really put my focus and energies. I'm excited."

2013 SEC Basketball Media Days - Frank Martin

2013 SEC Basketball Media Days - Dawn Staley

2013 SEC Basketball Media Days - Brenton Williams

2013 SEC Basketball Media Days - Aleighsa Welch

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