Sweet 16: Martin took road less traveled to reach the big stage

Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
Gamecock Central


NEW YORK CITY, NY -- When Frank Martin was the junior varsity head coach at Miami (Fla.) Senior High in the late 1980’s and later the varsity coach at three Miami area high schools from 1993-2000, and perhaps even when he was an assistant at Northeastern, few people probably predicted he would someday lead a Power 5 conference school into the prestigious Sweet 16.

Defying conventional wisdom, Martin is coaching in the Sweet 16 for the second time. He led Kansas State to the Elite Eight in 2010 when the Wildcats finished with a gaudy 29-8 record, but not before he convinced a skeptical local media covering the Wildcats that he could coach basketball at an elite level.

“When I first got hired at K-State 10 years ago, most members of the media that knew nothing about me referred to me as he's going to fail because he's nothing but a high school coach,” Martin said Thursday during a press conference at Madison Square Garden. :

“That was the word that was used. I have unbelievable conversations with high school coaches, young coaches, young people in college basketball, to let them know that they can move forward in this business as long as they do things the right way.”

Martin may be mentoring young coaches today, but a decade he was a first-time head coach at Kansas State. At the time, Scott Drew was beginning his fifth seaosn at Baylor and in the early stages of building the Bears into a perennial NCAA Tourney team. Drew hired Martin’s close friend Tim Maloney as Baylor’s director of operations and through that connection Martin and Drew developed a relationship.

“I'm extremely proud of how Scott has been able to maintain Baylor into a national winner in such a short period of time,” Martin said. “Every year everyone thinks Baylor is taking a back seat because they lost so and so, and there's another guy that jumps in there and all of a sudden he becomes their guy.”

THREE SEC TEAMS IN SWEET 16: A year ago, the SEC sent just three teams to the NCAA Tournament. This year, they have three teams in the Sweet 16 a positive reversal of fortune for a conference seeking more respect around the country.

All three SEC teams in the Sweet 16 – the Gamecocks, Florida and Kentucky – play Friday night for the right to advance to the Elite Eight on Sunday. The Gators are also in New York, while Kentucky faces UCLA in Memphis.

“There has been no luck about these teams advancing in the NCAA Tournament,” SEC Network analyst Dane Bradshaw said. “They have been playing at an extremely high level, taking it to teams and winning in convincing fashion. From the league’s standpoint, we knew about Kentucky’s reputation and Florida has a good reputation with Mike White taking the torch from Billy (Donovan). It’s so good for a third team other than those two to make it to the Sweet 16.”

Martin believes the SEC has taken a major step forward in earning national credibility by getting three teams into the Sweet 16.

“I don't sit around and try to say that we're better than the next league,” Martin said. “I've been in other leagues, I know how hard those leagues are. But it bothers me when our league is referred to in a different way than those leagues. We don't take a back seat to any of those leagues. I’m proud of my co-workers in the SEC. We have done what you have to do to earn credibility. Making runs here in the NCAA Tournament always helps.”

In the future, the SEC eyes getting even more teams into the NCAA Tournament. There could come a time when five teams is considered the floor instead of the ceiling. Especially with nationally renowned coaches such as Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) now coaching in the league.

“They recruit at a high level, they coach their players to play at a high level,” Martin said. “Commissioner Sankey has done an unbelievable job along with the people that he's surrounded himself with. It's helping us do a better job of promoting basketball within our own communities, our own pockets, where we're at.”


-- Martin on Chris Silva, a native of Gabon who played his prep basketball at Roselle (N.J.) High School across the river from New York City: “We needed him to be a senior even though he's a sophomore that's only played ball for less than four years. He's been willing to accept that responsibility.” Silva scored a career high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Sunday’s upset victory over Duke. “Freak athleticism,” Martin said.

-- Martin said a key to the Gamecocks’ post-season success is the players have not stopped listening to him despite all the distractions from social media. “I said to our guys, ‘The only reason we got put on the board (NCAA Tourney) is because you guys listened to me. I'm the only person in this room that he's ever been in this tournament. Don't stop listening to me now.’ And they didn't. That's why we had success last weekend. I trust those guys. I'm banking on them continuing to listen to us.”

-- Baylor senior Ishmail Wainright said the Bears have watch extensive film on Thornwell and have focused their defensive energies on stopping him. “The whole team, not just me, will be trying to stop him,” Wainright said.

SWEET 16 SCHEDULE (March 23-24)

Thur., March 23

Michigan vs. Oregon, 7:09 p.m. (CBS)

West Virginia vs. Gonzaga, 7:39 (TBS)

Purdue vs. Kansas, Approx. 9:39 p.m. (CBS)

Xavier vs. Arizona, Approx. 10:09 p.m. (TBS)

Fri., March 24

North Carolina vs. Butler, 7:09 p.m. (CBS)

South Carolina vs. Baylor, 7:29 p.m. (TBS)

UCLA vs. Kentucky, Approx. 9:39 p.m. (CBS)

Florida vs. Wisconsin, Approx. 9:59 p.m. (TBS)

(All Times Eastern)

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