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January 27, 2014

Martin: Winning people most important

The South Carolina 2013-14 basketball season isn't about winning games right now for head coach Frank Martin.

It's about winning people - specifically, his players.

Even more specifically, his seven freshmen who comprise the bulk of a team yet to win a Southeastern Conference game in six attempts, tying the school record for the worst start in the SEC since Eddie Fogler's 1998-99 team also started 0-6. That team tied Steve Newton's 1991-92 team for the worst record in school history in the SEC at 3-13.

For now, such records are meaningless to Martin.

"I can't put winning games above winning people, and right now we have to continue to make our guys understand that we're trying to win people," Martin said. "If we can figure out a way to keep our kids excited and connected with who we are and that we're not that far off rather than solely focused in on winning and losing games, then that'll happen.

"Eventually, when you win one, then your kids feel better. Because we're so young that you don't want them to get discouraged because everyone that reaches out to them in social media is probably discouraged that we're not winning. My job is to make sure that our guys continue to stay encouraged, because we are close."

Martin said his team need look no further than Saturday to see just how close it is to getting over the hump.

"You're at Missouri and you're down two possessions with 50 seconds to go," Martin said. "You're right there. Get a stop, make a shot, now it's a one-possession game. But it didn't happen.

"We're fighting our tails off to put ourselves in the same place where we could have two, three, four conference wins right now. So we have to keep our kids focused on that."

Performances like the one at Missouri give Martin hope for the future. Lots of it. Such games also allow Martin to show his players how far they've already come this year.

"Early in the year we went into Oklahoma State, they made their run early in the first half and we fell apart," Martin said. "We just went into Missouri, who is very comparable to Oklahoma State, very, very similar basketball teams, in an equally home-court-advantage environment and we got down I think 11-0 and next thing you know it's 20-16.

"We've grown as a team, and that's my job to keep them focused. My kids are real young, they don't really understand anything yet. I don't have any upperclassmen to make them understand reality. That's my job. I have to get them connected to the fact that even though we might not be getting the results from a won-loss standpoint, we are a better basketball team and these are the reasons why. That way they stay excited about what we're doing, which they are right now, and we can continue to progress."

"I'm extremely proud of my kids. I've been unhappy after one game, and that was the Georgia game. We did not fight, we never gave ourselves a chance to win. That's the only game I've been unhappy about."

Now, the Gamecocks (7-12, 0-6) return home after a week on the road seeking their first league win against a Texas A&M (12-7, 3-3) the Gamecocks lost to by eight in College Station two weeks ago. Martin said the home-court advantage the Gamecocks have enjoyed in league play thus far is a must moving forward for USC to succeed.

"We're excited to play at home," Martin said. "It feels like we've played at home one time all month. So getting around our fans will be great for our players.

"We've had a chance to win both of those (home) games against two high-quality opponents in LSU and Ole Miss. The crowd has had a direct influence on our team in our ability to play and put ourselves in a place where we can win.

"I hope our crowd respects the fact that our kids are playing extremely hard, that our kids are trying to do everything as well as they can to give our team a chance to win. Our team needs that win, and we need our crowd to come in and support our guys the best they can."



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