Martin excited to begin first season

The South Carolina men's basketball team opens up the 2012-13 season in less than a month with an exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan on October 30th. The first regular season game is November 11th against Milwaukee in the Hoops for Hope Classic. Martin held his first preseason press conference Tuesday afternoon.

In three days, the Frank Martin Era at South Carolina will officially begin. After being hired just over nine months ago, Martin will hold the team's first official practice of the 2012-13 season Friday.

"It's obvious I'm not on vacation anymore," Martin said at his preseason press conference Tuesday. "I'm excited for Friday. The guy's have made tremendous progress here the last six weeks or so and they're excited about Friday. Friday can't get here fast enough for us."

Martin has thoroughly enjoyed his first nine months on campus. He has thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game, started the "Game" "Cocks" cheer at a football game, and even checked out a few volleyball matches. Martin has also spoken at many different university events and Gamecock Club meetings.

"It's been awesome," Martin said. "Just getting to know fans, alums, boosters, or just folks of this community, it's been awesome. I enjoy taking my family to the movie theater, I enjoy going to Wal-Mart or the grocery store and being around people and fans with my family. That's something I don't run away from. If I have to hide then I need to get a different job. With all that said, this is my favorite time of year. My life becomes what it's supposed to be, which is basically those players that trust me and our staff. As long as everyone leaves in a good mood between now and late March and I'm the only one that's miserable, that means I'm probably doing my job the right way."

Though the team has participated in spring and summer drills, there were several pieces missing. RJ Slawson, one of just two legitimate post players returning from last season, sat out the summer with a hamstring issue. The injury is now healed and Slawson has taken part in fall drills. Carolina was also without its three freshmen players, Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius, and Mindaugus Kacinas. When fall individuals began, it was the first time Martin had all of his pieces.

"Michael Carrera and Mindaugus were not here this summer so they weren't able to do anything," Martin said. "Since we started our individuals in August and team individuals in September, those three guys began getting repetitions for the first time. Eric Smith didn't partake in anything in the spring because of knee surgery. It was the first time we've had everyone on the floor at all times for an extended period of time. We've been able to make progress."

Now that the team is fully in place and ready to go Friday, the real teaching begins for Martin and his staff.

"The most difficult thing in teaching, it's easy to show someone on film or a guy when you're one-on-one on the court. It's easier for them to understand that," Martin said. "How you get them to understand that in the concept of five guys on each side during a live, non-stop drill, that's where the teaching comes in and you have to connect drill work into game play."

Though there are only three freshmen on the roster entering practice, all of the players are like freshmen. They are all learning a new system and a different way of doing things. There is more of an emphasis on defense just like under former coach Darrin Horn, but it is different in that there is more pressure on the ball instead of setting up in a zone press.

"In reality, they're all going through a freshman period," Martin said. "They're all learning a new way of playing. The difference between real freshmen and a LaShay Page that's in his fifth year of college is that Page has been through that experience before. With freshman, some days we walk out and we're excited, and other days we go home and try and figure out if we even know their names because they didn't respond to things. They're all basically freshmen right now because they're learning new concepts and ideas."

The emphasis on any Martin-coached team has always been defense. Whether it be at the high school level or Kansas State, Martin's teams were known to play aggressive defense. Stepping in to a new position at a different school, Martin will have to begin by teaching his players how to play defense the way he expects them to. Once they have learned how to play defense, they can learn how to score. In a society where it is all about points and scoring, especially at the game's highest level in the NBA, Martin's approach is different and something that takes some time to adjust to.

"We can be in our tenth year here and that will be our first week of practice," Martin said. "We're going to spend a majority of our time on that side of the ball early in the season. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins and whoever gives up the fewest easy baskets wins. You don't win basketball games by running plays; you win basketball games by getting players to understand how to play with each other. You have to keep things simple."

Martin has already begun recruiting in-state talent, landing a commitment from former Gamecock B.J. McKie's son, Justin, committed to Carolina. When McKie steps on campus next fall, he will be one of six players from the state. Landing the top state talent is key and that begins by winning.

"When you can wear a uniform and the name on the front is as important as the name on the back that becomes powerful," Martin said. "I don't want to sound corny but you surrounding your heart with the two most important names as to who you are. When you can put the state that you represent and your family on your back, then your heart's surrounded by some strength. We are the state university. We are the university that kids in this state desire to be a part of. When you can get kids excited about representing their state, that's a strong message and something that's important to us."

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