For a team 1-7 in the SEC and having just dropped a heartbreaker on the road, Frank Martin is happy.
He's happy not with the last loss or with the losses overall but with how far his team has come in a short period of time, consistently knocking on the door of success.
"I'm real happy with our team," Martin said. "Real, real happy. I think we're a much better team. As the year has progressed, I think our guys have a belief of who we can become. It's a whole lot of fun to be around."
Martin's setbacks this season are well-documented. In the space of a couple weeks in January he lost his two most-experienced veterans and point guards to injury (junior Ty Johnson) and the NFL (senior Bruce Ellington). Those departures meant other younger players had to accelerate their development faster than anticipated.
"That's what makes me so happy with my kids," Martin said. "The two guys we had on our team that had any - and this is not a knock on Brent, it's just that Brent is not a very outspoken young man, he's very quiet - but the only two guys on our team that had any chance of being vocal and leading and understanding the college game have not been with us since early January (Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson).
"For me to see Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell and Brent to a certain extent just grow and be willing to be more outspoken and willing to be committed to the process (is gratifying) even though for Duane and Sin, it's their first rodeo. It gets me excited. It gets me excited about the kind of kids our assistants have identified for our program, what they're about. That's what wakes me up every day and puts me in a good mood.
"I'm watching little kids that weren't ready for a college practice, let alone play in a game in November, actually take leadership roles on the team and instill their belief into who we can become into everyone else on this team. That's fun to be around."
Another reason he's not overly critical of his team's progress is that five of his first eight SEC games have been on the road.
"I know we haven't played a lot at home, and that's why I'm even prouder of my guys," Martin said. "We're right there. We were right there to win at Ole Miss. We were right there to win at A&M. We went into Florida, and we were never in a place to win in the last four or five minutes of the game, but we went nose to nose with them.
We went in there, and it's not like we went in there and got embarrassed. That's who we have to go get. That's our barometer. Our guys fought. I'm real proud. At Missouri, we're down six to a team with 50 seconds to go (who is very good)."
The upside of that early road schedule is that four of the next six are at the Colonial Life Arena.
"I know we play at home Wednesday," Martin said. "I know when you play a lot on the road you'll play a lot at home because it all balances out. It's nine and nine. One year at K-State, my first year, we were 8-2 after 10 games in sole possession of first place.
"But we played a lot of games at home our early slate then we had a four-game stretch at Nebraska, at Baylor, home against Texas who was number six in the country and at KU and we lost four in a row. We went from 8-2 in first place to 8-6 and holding our breath to see if we could figure out a way to win our last two to put ourselves in a good place.
"I'm about that next day. That's how I'm wired."
Martin also is wired not to lose. Never has been, never will be.
"I'm not a good loser," Martin said. "I tell our team, we all have to identify what our strengths and weaknesses are. I'm not real good, I'm not the most chipper guy after a loss. I just don't like to lose.
"But once I get home and watch our film and put my head on the pillow, it's no longer about me being frustrated with a loss, it's about I got a group of kids who are busting their humps for me and what do I have to do to help them improve? Those guys have been great about that. It's a fun group to coach."
Martin bristled at the idea that his team has achieved any moral victories this season.
"Moral victories, to me, should be taken out of every sentence ever used," Martin said. "I refuse to ever accept those words or use them.
I never walk into a locker room after a loss and say 'Everything's going to be OK.' I can't stand to lose. Anyone that accepts a loss has no business in competitive environments. When I accepted the job here I didn't expect to run a 50-yard dash. I understood it was a long race. It's easy to sit there and say, 'Have patience.'
"It's harder to be in it and find patience. I've got to find patience, because those kids are going to follow my lead. And as I go home every night and when I go see the good man upstairs every Sunday, all I ask for is patience.
"I've got to work real hard at finding that patience. If I'm patient, demanding, teach, but patience, then my guys will follow that lead. That's the only thing that matters. We've got an upbeat locker room. There's no negativity in there. As long as it stays that way, we'll be OK."
NOTE: Martin said Johnson recently had the cast taken off his foot and repeated that it's highly unlikely he plays any more this year, adding that a medical redshirt year isn't possible because he played in too many games.
"They took the cast off, and he needs a pedicure in the worst of ways," Martin said, joking. "The X-ray showed that it's starting to heal but the crack's not healed yet. There's a break; it's not a crack, it's a
break. In two weeks they'll X-ray it again and see where he's at.
"With his injury, you can't let him go back on the floor until that space where the bone broke is completely sealed back together or it'll re-break, and he doesn't deserve that."