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January 24, 2014

Martin: Toughness lacking

Frank Martin is a tough coach to play for in that like any good coach in any sport, he demands the best of you, demands you push yourself beyond the boundaries of what you thought you could be.

Doing that is about toughness, about going places that are uncomfortable to go and doing things that are uncomfortable to do. After Wednesday night's game in Athens, which Martin described as his lowest point as head coach since he took the job, South Carolina's lack of toughness - particularly in its on-ball defense and inside play - was most frustrating.

"You gotta have a little substance about you," Martin said. "You gotta have a little fire in your belly. Here's the deal. I learned to play football when I was a kid, then one day a friend of mine said, 'Let's go out for the basketball team.'

"So I went out for my seventh-grade team; I had never touched a ball before then. I went over there and I got beat off the dribble, and my seventh-grade coach said, 'Yo, if you can't guard the ball, you've got no chance to ever play.'

"Maybe (our team) never had a coach like that in their life before."

If they haven't before, they certainly do now. The cardinal sins for a Frank Martin player are lack of effort and lack of defensive intensity. Martin has said over and over that he can live with aggressive mistakes. It's the lazy mistakes, the lazy effort, that send him through the roof. Against Georgia, Martin was disgusted with his five forwards (Demetrius Henry, Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas and Desmond Ringer) who combined to go 1-for-11 from the floor with 22 fouls and three points.

In basketball, fouls often are the resort of the beaten player. When a player can't stop his man, when he's out of position or when his feet aren't set he's more likely to foul than when those things aren't true. In Athens, South Carolina committed a season-high 33 fouls and sent Georgia to the line for a season-high 50 free throw attempts.

"When your front line has more fouls than blocked shots, field goal attempts and total rebounds combined, that's a problem," Martin said. "We have to fix it."

Early foul trouble from the Gamecocks' big men did have one upside - freshman Reggie Theus Jr. saw the most action of his young career. Having only played 17 minutes combined the entire season, Theus Jr. played 13 minutes against the Bulldogs, pulling in a defensive rebound (which was one more than Kacinas or Ringer) while missing one shot, two free throws and committing a lane violation on a free throw attempt Georgia has missed but then made.

"We've been practicing (Theus Jr.) at the four a little bit," Martin said. "We haven't given him as much reps as he needs to really understand what we're doing there, so he gave us energy.

"He wasn't sure about what we were trying to do so so then you look disjointed. But give him credit. He at least tried to run up and down and go after the ball."

Martin's ultimatum to his team was simple: you're either with us or against us. If you're with us, be prepared to give everything all the time. If you're not, well... .

"They can play somewhere else if they're not excited about practicing tomorrow," Martin said. "There are 350 schools in the country. They don't have to stay here if they don't want to if they're not excited about the chance."

Martin said he's not concerned about losing his team. Rather, he said, it's the other way around.

"They better hope they don't lose me," Martin said. "That's the key point.

"I'm going to be here."



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