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February 25, 2014

Martin: Fans are coming back

For a program looking for something - anything - to build momentum on, the answer may just turn out to be closer to home than Frank Martin could have imagined.

The fans are coming back.

After years of apathy - sometimes outright disgust - Martin shared Tuesday afternoon that the university expects its final home attendance numbers to be the best in almost six years, and that's with two home game attendance numbers significantly impacted by adverse weather.

Martin said he's extremely appreciative of the fans who have come back and understands that the base, which is growing, doesn't always look as good as it should because South Carolina (10-17, 3-11) plays in the fourth-largest arena in the SEC (18,000, behind Tennessee's 24,535, Kentucky's 23,500 and Arkansas' 19,368)

"For Ole Miss, we had close to 15 (thousand) in here," Martin said. "The Georgia crowd (13,571) was pretty good. Here's the thing that we all have to understand: When you have six or seven thousand in here, it's embarrassing.

"But our fans are starting to come. They're coming. And if you go with the number of fans in our building this year - I'm not even going to talk about last year, (just) this year - you say, 'Well, there's a lot of empty seats.' Well, if you put that same number in every SEC arena, you've probably sold out 80 percent of the arenas. So our fans are doing a pretty good job.

"Now we have to continue to grow as a program and take advantage of moments against Ole Miss and Georgia and so forth and go win those games. We did that against Vanderbilt and it was awesome. Against Alabama, it's the first time in my time here where I feel we had a home-court advantage coming down the stretch. It's coming."

Martin said he sympathizes with those fans who left because of the program's lack of success, especially when the school has experienced unprecedented success in other sports such as football, baseball and, now, women's basketball.

"Fans, it's their money, their time, their emotions," Martin said. "They have to determine when they want to sacrifice those three things to become part of it. The fans I don't want to get on board are the ones who sit back and criticize our kids right now. They can stay home.

"The ones who are still trying to pass judgment and are sitting back and are not ready to commit yet, I get it. I understand. We have to play better. We have to win more. We've got to earn their trust for them to give us their time, their emotion."

Martin said he understands it even more because he's a fan himself of a once-proud program than has fallen on hard times.

"I'm a Dolphins fan; die-hard Dolphins fan," Martin said. "I sit back, look at the schedule and they're three and six and they play at Denver, at Indianapolis...(I think) 'They'll never make the playoffs, they stink, blah blah blah.' I'm a fan, too. I get it.

"I know when I invest - I don't invest my money and time anymore because I live here and not down there - but when I used to, and you give them your emotion, it hurts you when your team doesn't play the way you want them to play. So I get that part. Fans who are right now sitting back and they're still not ready to jump on board, I get it. We have a great number who are. I have an unbelievable responsibility to this school and those fans to make sure this program is built and is built for the long haul.

"The ones that want to sit back and criticize, they can stay home. I really don't care if they ever show up. But the ones that are impartial, it's our job to earn their trust, to earn their willingness to give us that time and emotion that fans have to give. At the end of the day, our business does not work if it's not for fans. It's our jobs to make them proud to be a part of what we do."

Martin said he's proud of where his team is right now.

"We've been playing well," Martin said. "We had a bad offensive half against Georgia, (but) I've been happy with our guys. I think we've played well in the last couple of weeks, I really do. We're still a work in progress as a program, let alone a team. We continue to mix and match trying to, to a certain extent, to fit square pegs into round holes. But that's who we are right now.

"It's our jobs to make it work with who we've got, and they're trying. I wasn't happy with a lot of things in the Georgia game, but we can't dwell on that. We have to find a way to play with resolve and play well and find a way to put ourselves in a place where we can win. We did that at Arkansas and then we didn't close the deal. We have to figure out a way to be in the same situation and figure out a way to overcome that moment.

"Every coach's objective is to play their best basketball at the end of the year, and I really think we're playing our best basketball right now."

South Carolina NEWS


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