Why South Carolina?

When the news first broke that Frank Martin was leaving Kansas State and heading to South Carolina, college basketball fans and national pundits all said the same thing; why? There are three big reasons why Martin took on the task of the Carolina men's basketball program.

Why South Carolina?

That is what Kansas State fans and many sports personalities have been asking ever since it was announced that Frank Martin was the new men's basketball coach at Carolina. One unnamed web site went as far as saying that it will be a decision Martin would regret. One sports personality said that South Carolina is a graveyard for basketball coaches.

On the surface it is hard to argue with that. South Carolina just went through arguably its worst season in school history, finishing 10-21 and 2-14 in the SEC. The two conference wins is the worst since joining the SEC. Meanwhile, Martin just wrapped up a 22-11 season at Kansas State and took the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years as head coach. His has never lost in the first round of the tournament, which is something that South Carolina is not used to doing.

Why South Carolina? To borrow a phrase from head football coach Steve Spurrier; "Why not us?" Why not South Carolina?

Spurrier, along with baseball coach Ray Tanner and women's basketball coach Dawn Staley, are three big reasons why Martin accepted the job to coach the men's basketball team.

"As Eric (Hyman) and I spoke, there are some things that jumped out," Martin said. "There were also other things that I stepped back and looked at. I saw Steve Spurrier, Ray Tanner and Dawn Staley. I said those are three people that can coach anywhere in the country. They have unbelievable credentials. Yet they've chosen South Carolina. They've chosen the University of South Carolina. All three have one thing in common. They win. They don't just win games; they win. They win every day. I kept looking at that and said I want this challenge. I want to lead the men's basketball team to the same place that these people are leading their respective programs."

What those that are asking why Martin came to South Carolina don't realize is that Spurrier, Tanner, and Staley all took over programs with limited national exposure and took them to the next level. Staley and Spurrier took over programs that were similar to the men's basketball program.

Tanner took over a baseball program in 1997 that was used to having success, but had fallen back in recent seasons. Tanner's predecessor, June Raines, had great success in his 20 years of coaching the Gamecocks. Raines only had one losing season – his final year – and won at least 40 games nine times. He took the Gamecocks to the College World Series four times, but had not taken Carolina to Omaha since 1985. It took Tanner only four seasons to break the school record of 51 wins set in 1975 when Carolina went 56-10 in 2000, and two years later Tanner had his team back in Omaha. 2002 was the first of three consecutive seasons the Gamecocks were in Omaha, but never was able to achieve the highest prize. It wasn't until six years later that Tanner won the grand prize and he enjoyed it so much that he did it again in 2011. In 15 years, Tanner has won at least 40 games 13 times and won at least 50 games five times.

Spurrier took over the football program in 2005 after Lou Holtz retired from coaching. Though Holtz had given Carolina its best back-to-back seasons in 2000 and 2001, he had left Spurrier a program in shambles. After back-to-back 5-7 seasons and the unforgettable brawl with rival Clemson in his last game as coach turned out to be just the beginning of troubles. After cleaning house after multiple arrests and suspensions, Spurrier may have wondered what he was getting himself into. Spurrier recovered and won eight games in his first season, including South Carolina's first win in Knoxville against Tennessee and a win over Spurrier's alma mater Florida. In 2006 Spurrier won eight games, including a win at Clemson and a bowl win over Houston in the Liberty Bowl. 2007 would be a year to forget after losing the final five games of the season after a 6-1 start had the Gamecocks in the top 10. 2008 and 2009 would be mediocre 7-6 seasons with embarrassing performances in the respective bowl games. 2010 would be a turn-around season with Spurrier taking the Gamecocks to its first SEC Championship game appearance after a 9-3 season. The Gamecocks would lose to Auburn in the championship game and then lost to Florida State in the bowl game.

2011 was finally the banner year for Spurrier, despite not making it back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship. The Gamecocks won a school-record 11 games after beating Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and also set a school record with six conference wins. With the recent success of the program, an SEC Championship is no longer a dream, but an achievable goal, and if recent history is any indication, a chance at a National Championship follows.

Staley took over a women's basketball program that was in similar conditions as the football program. Though Susan Walvius took Carolina to its only Elite Eight appearance in the 2001-02 season, the success had dropped drastically. Two years after the Elite Eight appearance the Gamecocks managed just one conference win and only won two the following season. Walvius managed three WNIT appearances in her final three seasons, but recruiting in-state had stopped and Walvius was relying on foreign players. Staley went 10-18 in her first season with a 2-12 conference mark, but has improved every season since. In 2009, Staley had a 14-15 season with a 7-9 conference record. Staley enjoyed her first winning season in 2010 when the Gamecocks finished 18-15 with an 8-8 conference record before being eliminated in the second round of the WNIT.

This season Staley enjoyed similar success to what Spurrier enjoyed. Carolina went 25-10 overall, 10-6 in SEC play, and advanced to the Sweet 16 before being eliminated by Stanford. In the process, Carolina picked up its first win in Knoxville against the Lady Vols and advanced to the Semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the first time in school history.

That is what Carolina fans – and Eric Hyman – expect Martin to do.

"We couldn't be more pleased to have someone of his success, caliber and commitment to get South Carolina basketball on the same level Steve Spurrier has his program, Dawn Staley has her program and Ray Tanner has his program," Hyman said.

Martin doesn't come in and make a million promises. He only makes one; that his players will play hard and compete.

"I don't promise things," Martin said. "Five-year plan, three-year plan. As an old high school coach, I never understood what that meant. The only thing I promise is our guys will be held accountable every day for what they're responsible for. Whether it's an academic responsibility, a community responsibility because our guys will be in the community. They'll be in the elementary schools and doing projects to make this world a better place so they understand the importance of impacting people. The only thing I promise as your basketball coach is that every time we take the floor we'll play the game the right way. We will compete."

Failure to compete is what cost Darrin Horn his job. Not only did the Gamecocks endure its most difficult season in recent memory, but it failed to improve over the course of the season. While other teams improved and got better, Carolina seemed to stay on one level. It was a team that could compete with a lot of teams for 20-25 minutes, but would let it all slip away in the end.

"I tell guys when you finish college and become a man, you have to do your job as a husband, father and employee 365 days a year," Martin said. "As a college athlete, basketball in specific, if you're lucky you get an opportunity to do it 35 times a year. What kind of man does that make us if we can't sacrifice to do our jobs to the best of our abilities 35 times a year compared to 365 when they step away from college. That's a message we never stop delivering. Our guys will be known as the hardest playing guys in America. Our guys will compete. We will rebound, defend and run. That's a guarantee I give you."

Along with the team's 10-win season, the 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena was an empty arena except when Ohio State and Kentucky came to town and Buckeye red and Kentucky blue covered the arena. It's up to Martin and his staff to change that.

"I can stand up here and talk until we're all blue in the face," Martin said. "At the end of the day it's about us going out there and playing the game the right way and winning. When you do that people get excited. It starts with season ticket sales. It's our job to excite our fans and alums. We want 18,000 people on that roller coaster ride with us. It won't always be great, but when you hit the bottom of the roller coaster you know that turn is coming to set you right back up. It's going to be fun. Selling this arena out falls on our staff and players doing their job correctly."

Why South Carolina? That's why.


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