Frank Martin looked like he usually does after practice, save for a bit more beard stubble. He joked that he was going to keep it as long as South Carolina was winning, even if the Gamecocks won without him.
It was business as usual on Monday, USC preparing for its SEC tournament date with Auburn with no welcome-back chants for Martin, who spent Saturday in Tennessee watching his daughter’s cheerleading competition while the Gamecocks were in Mississippi, beating Mississippi State to conclude the regular season. Suspended for the game due to a verbal haranguing of a player last week, Martin spent the time reflecting on what he has done in his career and then proudly congratulating his players for winning a tough game.
There was no need for hoopla at Martin returning. The players wanted him there, they didn’t think he should have been punished and they continued to stand behind him.
“I personally don’t think he needs to change,” SEC Freshman of the Year candidate Sindarius Thornwell said. “I came here because of who he is and what kind of coach he is and what gets me going. We like the way he is now. How he coaches is how he coaches. You can’t really get mad at a guy for showing that much passion.”
Some USC fans took to social media after the suspension, pledging that it was the right move and that there isn’t a place for Martin’s actions, or to support Martin and decry what they judged to be an over-reaction. Thornwell and Brenton Williams said that they took it as a chip on their shoulders, to go and win for their coach, and then took time on Monday to explain why they felt he was being judged too harshly.
“That’s how he’s been known to motivate and encourage his players his whole life, and obviously, it’s been pretty successful for him,” Williams said, mentioning Martin’s record in high school and at Kansas State. “That’s how he knows how to get to his players, and it does get to us, too, but in a motivational way. So, I don’t think he needs to change his way at all.”
Thornwell said he signed with USC because of Martin’s style. Recruits are brought to practices with their high school coaches to see what goes on, and Martin holds nothing back. Thornwell, for one, decided he wanted to be challenged like that.
“I’ve had coaches like that all my life,” he said. “My high school coach, he did the same thing. I look at it as motivation. He feels it, so we can feel it, too. We don’t really look at it as, ‘He’s too hard on us.’ We look at it as ‘OK, he’s showing that passion, we’ll play hard for him.’ ”
Martin also publicly apologized for berating Williams after a game in January, and Williams responded by blossoming into the team’s best scorer. Williams was recognized at Senior Day last week, and his father thanked Martin for making his son a man.
“You know, he may curse or whatnot, but it’s not really a personal thing with him,” Williams said. “That’s what people think it is, when he gets all up in our face, but it’s all just motivation to get fired up when he sees us being lackadaisical. He’s going to get in our face to amp us up, but we don’t take it personal.”
Thornwell knew that some of the fans who objected are never around to see Martin outside of the games and practice, where he’s telling his players about life lessons and offering them his support for the rest of their careers and lives. Martin said that of all of his college players, one has yet to finish his degree, and one has been arrested. Many of them sent him messages of support last week.
“He cusses us out, but after he cusses us out, he slaps us on the butt, like, ‘C’mon, now,’ ” Thornwell said. “It’s not like he holds anything against us. He’ll cuss us out and congratulate us at the same time. That’s what you want.”
Martin promised last week to watch his cursing and to be better in his on-court behavior. Asked if everyone could expect to see a changed man on the sideline on Wednesday, Martin didn’t know.
“I am who I am. I’m proud of who I am,” Martin said, pointing out his list of 20-win seasons and postseason appearances. “When I went here for the last four days and I kind of reflected on me and who I am, I felt good about myself. I felt good that I made a mistake, I felt good that what I do has helped a heck of a lot more people than hurt. Will I be different? I have to. I got to be who I am.”
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