Frank Martin doesn't just like toughness, he exudes it.
As he said at his press conference earlier this week, Martin can be "demanding with (his) voice."
Indeed, he can.
He's also demanding of his players to exhibit the same toughness, effort and desire on the court, and this season he feels he has more and better players than he inherited a year ago to do precisely that, beginning with junior point guard Ty Johnson, a transfer from Villanova who sat out last season but practiced with the team. He'll be counted on to run the team when he's eligible to play in December. In the meantime, he's working with the young guards - freshmen Duane Notice, Jaylen Shaw, Justin McKie and Sindarius Thornwell - to prepare them for the rigors of elite college play.
"Ty's been real good with those young guards," Martin said. "He's been real good. In the first two practices, when he's on defense, he physically tries to dominate those young kids. He doesn't try to embarrass them or show them up, he just tries to beat them on a play, and when the play is over he'll go over and say, 'You can't do that, you know, it's A, B and C. That's what being a good teammate is."
One area the team will need toughness - and where it was sorely lacking last season - was in the post. That starts with returners Michael Carrerra, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas.
"Mike is healthy," Martin said. "You don't have to worry about Mike's motor. That thing runs when he's asleep. He's healthy, so he can sustain effort mentally. When that body gives in, you lose your mind. Now, he's in a place where he can sustain.
"Mindaugas (Kacinas) is a lot stronger than he was at any time last year. I think that's something that he couldn't sustain, the strength part of it, when we got into the beef of the schedule. He's prepared himself to have a better season than he did a year ago.
"Across the board Laimonas is better than he was last year. He doesn't run up and down twice and kind of fall over. I told him one time, it's kind of embarrassing as a basketball coach to put a guy in the game that when he runs twice, he has to hunch over and grab his shorts and look like he's going to pass out. If that's the best shape you're in, I can't put you in a game. That's embarrassing. He's in better shape."
Martin said the combination of the returners in better condition coupled with the physical presence of newcomers Desmond Ringer (6-foot-9) and Demetrius Henry (6-9) give the Gamecocks an inside game they will have to rely on to be competitive.
"(Having height in practice is) huge, just huge," Martin said. "(Carrera) and Desmond have already been tangled up under the basket because he'll try to move Desmond and Desmond won't budge. That's important."Same thing with Demetrius. Right now Demetrius is not heavy enough. He can deal with Mike or Desmond on a play, and I'm talking solely on girth and strength, but if he has to do it on two or three straight plays, then advantage to the other side.
"But Meat's got that streak about him that he's going to work and he doesn't back down. You have guys (in practice) who play who can help prepare us for the guys we'll play."
That depth, Martin said, has to mean improved play during the season.
"Our post play has to be better," Martin said. "Holy cow, it can't be any worse than it was last year.
"After two days of practice we're much better. We're much better in our ability to play at the rim. We're still nowhere near where we need to be, but we're better.
"Last year, if you watched us practice, you'd leave practice and it was (Mike) and everyone else at the rim. The separation isn't there anymore. There are people and action and guys catching balls. Guys are better. It'll be interesting; that has to be a strength of our team, and I think it will. Last year it was not. It needs to be this year."
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