Men’s pregame: Grant’s struggles parallel Martin’s

USC coach knows both programs need a victory

dcloninger@thestate.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Feb 13, 2014; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin disputes a call against the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first half at The Colonial Life Arena.

JEFF BLAKE — USA TODAY Sports

  • GAMECOCKS VS. CRIMSON TIDE

    WHO: Alabama (10-14, 4-7 SEC) at South Carolina (9-15, 2-9)

    WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

    WHERE: Colonial Life Arena

    TV: SEC TV (ABC-WOLO in Columbia area)

    Alabama’s probable starters: G Trevor Releford (18.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Rodney Cooper (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Algie Key (4.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Shannon Hale (7.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Nick Jacobs (8.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

    USC’s probable starters: G Duane Notice 6-2 Fr. (7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Fr. (13.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Brenton Williams 6-1 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg); F Demetrius Henry 6-9 Fr. (4.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 So. (6.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

    NEXT: USC tips off at Arkansas at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

Every coach wants to win.

Every coach is dreading having to hurt the other guy in order to do so.

“You know what really stinks?” South Carolina coach Frank Martin asked after Thursday’s 65-59 victory against Vanderbilt. “Both of us and our teams are fighting our tails off, and unfortunately, one of us can’t go on a two-game winning streak. It’s a bad time for us to end up playing each other. I don’t think either one of us wants to accept a loss.”

Alabama comes to Columbia on Saturday looking to continue its recent success following Trevor Releford’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Ole Miss on Tuesday. The shot snapped a four-game losing streak and a stretch where the Crimson Tide (10-14, 4-7 SEC) had lost six of seven.

It’s been a rough season in Tuscaloosa with an overhauled and much more aggressive non-conference season taking its toll on a team with five new players. Coach Anthony Grant, who took the Tide to the postseason in three of his first four years, is facing an uphill climb to make it four in five.

“To try to position ourselves, if we were fortunate enough to win some of those games, to have a chance at the postseason, and also to help strengthen our league in terms of RPI,” Grant recently explained to The Associated Press, as to why he loaded up on challenges before SEC play. “Unfortunately for us, it didn’t work out that way with our non-conference (play).”

Grant hasn’t experienced losing like this before. He never lost more than 10 games in a season at his prior stop, VCU, and the highest loss total of his Alabama tenure is 15 games, in his first year. One more defeat and the Tide are going to match that, with a run to notch their fourth straight 20-win season looking unlikely.

Martin understands. He knew what he was getting into when he left a very successful Kansas State program for USC and knew it would be a long building process to get the Gamecocks into the SEC discussion. It hasn’t been easy, with losses piling.

Yet he always was ready to lend a sympathetic ear to his close friend, Grant, when he began going through the same.

A friendship that blossomed from the time the two sat next to each other in sophomore English at Miami Senior High, Grant and Martin go back years. Martin once wrote a paper on Grant when the assignment was to write on someone you respect.

“We speak. Anthony and I, we don’t speak as often during the season,” Martin said. “We probably spoke more when I was in the other conference than we do now, for obvious reasons. But we spoke.”

Martin told Grant to keep his head up, that it would turn around. It was some of the same advice that Grant has told Martin over his first two years at USC. Martin sees similarities in the two teams and their struggles this season, but also sees light at the end of the tunnel.

If it’s the Gamecocks that post a two-game winning streak Saturday, Martin will like it.

But only so much.

“Their team is real similar to ours,” Martin said. “They’ve got a senior point guard, we don’t, but very similar in the fact that he’s playing a lot of young kids and they fight, fight, fight and then at the end, they just can’t close the door. They did the other day, and we did (Thursday).”

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