Frank Martin is not satisfied with the body of work of his second season in Columbia. South Carolina finished 14-20, and 5-13 in the SEC. But he understands this was the first season in which he had his players playing his system.
The Gamecocks stumbled to a 1-9 mark to open SEC play but rallied to go 6-5 down the stretch. That included a 72-67 win over a Kentucky team that played in the national championship game. South Carolina won two games in the SEC Tournament, a feat the program had not accomplished since 2006.
Add to the fact Martin expects every player to return with the exception of senior Brenton Williams and a return to success for South Carolina might be closer than it has in years.
I get a completely different vibe right now in the community when Im around than I have at any time in my two years here, Martin said Monday at his season-ending news conference.
Completely different vibe. I think its because the fans respect the way our team continued to grow during the year, and the way we finished the year playing, including that win against Kentucky.
Half of the Gamecocks losses in the SEC came by eight points or fewer. Several times, they had the lead or an opportunity to take the lead in the closing minutes but couldnt win. This was a team where seven freshmen had never been in those situations.
The Gamecocks also had to overcome the loss of the only two true point guards on the roster. Bruce Ellington elected to not return to basketball and focused on the NFL draft. Then, Ty Johnson broke his foot in the third SEC game to force USC to find other options.
At the end of the year, we were able to finish off some of those games because those young bucks started to understand to not get wrapped up in the emotion of a possession at the end of a game, Martin said. Earlier in the year, it bothered and affected us.
Martin is in the middle of conducting his year-end meetings with players and doesnt expect any defections.
Sindarius Thornwell was an SEC All-Freshman selection and provided a glimpse of his talent more often than not. He started all 34 games, earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times and reached at least 20 points a game six times in league play to break the freshman record of B.J. McKie for most 20-point games in the conference.
But even the talented Thornwell was not prepared at the beginning of the season. He has a greater perspective now as for what it takes to be successful and has been leading the workouts in the weight room.
(Sindarius) said to me, I thought this was going to be a lot easier that it really was. I understand now, Martin said.
Johnson has been cleared to do everything with the exception of competitive one-on-one drills. He should be fully healed by the time the summer program begins in June. Martin liked the way Johnson was playing when he got hurt and expects a big senior season from him.
Duane Notice, Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius all had promising moments. They are expected improve after through summer workouts.
This is the first offseason for the majority of our team, Martin said. We have to take advantage of the weight room, nutrition, rest. All the guys are going to be here this summer, continuing to get their body stronger.
Martin said the biggest challenge for this coaching staff is to continue to find the size to compete nightly in the SEC. This team added length from previous seasons with Demetrius Henry in the middle and Notice and Thornwell on the perimeter, but they must add bulk.
Martin does not like to dwell on losses, so he had high praise for the way his team blocked the negativity surrounding it when they were 8-15.
Im happy with where our guys were at the end of the year, Martin said. We need to build on that this offseason.