Martin hired at USC: ‘I like challenges’

Frank Martin brings fiery determination as USC’s new basketball coach

ashain@thestate.comMarch 27, 2012 

New South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he would sell recruits on the Gamecocks’ basketball history — despite a record thin on championships and NCAA tournament appearances.

Martin said he has plenty to sell with the former Gamecocks stars who made an impact in Columbia and beyond.

“In recruiting you can sell a dream, but if it’s a dream, you better hope someone is willing to believe in it,” Martin said Tuesday after he was hired from Kansas State. “When you sell tradition and when you sell reality, that makes recruiting a lot easier because it’s been proven that it’s been done before.

“It’s my job to reconnect (former USC stars) with the present program to help us go recruit the next one. ‘I want to be the next Devan Downey.’ ‘I want to be the next Alex English,’ ” he continued. “And when you show them that has happened here before, that’s not a dream anymore.”

Martin, 46, agreed to a six-year, $12.3 million deal that was approved on Tuesday by the USC board of trustees. He also could earn up to $735,000 a year in incentives for winning conference crowns, national titles and coach of the year awards as well as boosting NCAA academic scores.

South Carolina also will pay the $1 million Martin owes for leaving Kansas State with three years remaining on his contract, and will give him $150,000 in relocation expenses.

Martin, who went 117-54 and made four NCAA tournament appearances in five seasons with the Wildcats, will have a rebuilding project in Columbia. The Gamecocks have posted three consecutive losing seasons, including a 13-year worst 10-21 record and all-time school low 2-14 SEC mark this past season.

“I like challenges. I get invigorated by a challenge,” Martin said. “Getting this program back to where it belongs was something I embraced.”

USC athletics director Eric Hyman made it his mission to bring a coach who could get the men’s basketball program on par with the school’s football, baseball and women’s basketball programs.

Hyman said he learned of Martin’s interest through ex-USC coach Eddie Fogler, who runs a coach search consulting business. Martin was at Kansas State because of Fogler, who helped Bob Huggins land with the Wildcats in 2007. Martin was on Huggins’ staff at Cincinnati and Kansas State.

“We wouldn’t be here today if Eddie wasn’t involved in the process,” Hyman said.

Fogler, who attended the news conference Tuesday and served as consultant in the search that resulted in USC’s hiring Darrin Horn in 2008, declined comment.

Horn was fired two weeks ago after compiling a 60-63 record in four seasons. Horn, who was being paid $1.1 million a year, received a $2.4 million buyout.

Hyman declined to discuss who else was considered for the job. In looking at candidates, Hyman said he and other USC officials spoke with high school and college coaches, NCAA officials, players, shoe company representatives, conference personnel, athletics directors, agents and trainers.

“Quite frankly, I think we got the right person,” Hyman said. “He’s sincere, he’s loyal, he’s personable. He’s a hard worker and a hell of a recruiter. He’s a basketball coach. Yes, he’s fiery and very animated, but he’s down-to-Earth and develops relationships.”

Martin said he will not change his fiery personality, though he said that is not what defines him.

“As you great folks get to know me and my family, what you see in six seconds on ESPN is nothing like I really am,” he said. “I know, based on what ESPN likes to put out there, that a lot of people think I’m negative. I’m one of the most positive people you’ll ever come across.”

The son of Cuban immigrants assumes a program still searching for a consistent winner since Frank McGuire retired more than 30 years ago. Like McGuire did in luring players south from his native New York, Martin is expected to make up for the dearth of top-level basketball players in South Carolina by recruiting in Miami, where he coached at high schools for 15 years.

Martin, whose teams sold out many games at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum in recent years, wants to do the same at Colonial Life Arena. His contract includes incentive clauses for season ticket sales rising by more than 1,000 ($50,000) and at least four games with more than 16,000 fans in attendance ($15,000).

“When fans pay their dollars they earned to come to watch a game, there’s nothing that upsets me more than a team doesn’t lay it on the line. Our guys will compete and our guys will play the game the right way. I have no wiggle room on that one,” he said. “We will stick 18,000 every time we play in this arena and make it the hardest arena in the country for anybody to play.”

Martin said he met with Gamecocks players Tuesday for about 30 minutes and will meet today with Horn’s assistants who are still under contract. He also spoke with Kansas State coaches on Tuesday and will make staff decisions soon.

He also acknowledged the groundwork laid by Horn in Columbia.

“He has put in some fundamental basics and responsibilities in place that makes this job doable,” Martin said. “There are good kids in the program that have been held accountable and represented this school well in every way except the in win column. It is my duty to complete that part.”

Martin said he had a tough time leaving Kansas State, where he coached for six seasons — one as an assistant under Huggins and five as head coach after Huggins left for West Virginia.

But he said his decision had nothing to do with a perceived rift between he and Kansas State athletics director John Currie — especially over the suspension of leading rebounder Jamar Samuels before the Wildcats’ third-round NCAA tournament game when administrators found Samuels received $200 from an AAU coach.

“I can’t be more thankful for the way that that administration treated us. They gave us what we needed,” Martin said. “If the people who reported that ever went in meetings between Currie and I, I think their opinion would be different.”

Currie, speaking at a news conference at Kansas State, said the pair had a strong relationship: “One of the things I appreciate about him is that he doesn’t hold back.”

Martin said Kansas State made efforts to try to keep him: “They let me know that they wanted me to stay.”

But the leaders at South Carolina won him over in what he called a two-day full-court press during the weekend.

“I couldn’t get past the enthusiasm, the desire that Eric Hyman has for this basketball program,” Martin said. “His belief in me, it’s hard to look past that. It’s hard to not be willing to be a part of that.”

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