If South Carolina plays against LSU tonight the way it did last month while beating the Tigers in Baton Rouge, then you can expect first-year USC coach Frank Martin to be his usual animated self on the sideline, stomping and screaming and trying to urge the Gamecocks to their third Southeastern Conference victory.
If not, then you might just see a repeat of what happened in the second half at Kentucky last week, when Martin spent most of the half seated on the bench, appearing uncharacteristically reserved. Martin explained this week why he did that at Kentucky, and what message he was trying to send to his team as it learns how to win.
“I’m not a cheerleader,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? Stand up and clap and pump my fist when guys aren’t doing what you ask them to do? You practice every day and you correct problems in practice. The game starts and guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. What am I supposed to do? Put on a show on the sideline so people think ‘oh, wow, look at him, he’s really trying to coach’? No. What am I supposed to do? That’s what I meant by that.
“Some (reporter) asked me (after the Kentucky game): ‘You looked extremely reserved in the second half.’ I said, ‘Well, everything I said to do, they didn’t do, so what am I supposed to do? Put on charades on the sideline so people think that I’m coaching?’ Obviously, I did a crappy job of coaching because what I was asking guys to do, they weren’t doing. So you don’t fix that during a game, and I’m not into putting on a show so people think that ‘oh, look at him, even though his team’s down 18 or whatever, he’s still out there sweating.’
“Our guys have to learn to perform in the moment because they want it, not because I’m yakking at them. When our guys are in-tune with what we’re doing, whether we’re winning or losing a game, that’s irrelevant to me, (because) when they’re in-tune with what we’re doing and playing the ways that we try to prepare, then I’ll be up there, sweating my tail off, screaming at everyone in the gym, to try and overcome that moment to get us to the other side. When they’re not, I’m going to just sit back, let them figure it out, so they understand, and we’ll fix it in the next day in practice. That’s kind of where I was going with that.”
The Gamecocks have lost four straight games entering tonight, but freshman wing player Michael Carrera has played well in all four, and enters tonight as USC’s leading scorer.
“He’s got this pride about himself,” Martin said. “He’s got that fresh blood that some of the other guys, I think, respect. I think it’s permeating across our team a little bit.”
In falling to Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the Gamecocks’ offense has been mostly unreliable, but Martin saw some defensive strides on Sunday against Tennessee.
“Going into the Florida game, we were playing offensively pretty good, defensively pretty good, and then since that 12-minute mark of the first half of the Florida game, we’ve gotten deflated and we’ve lost that edge that we had worked so hard to build,” Martin said. “I think it’s affected our offense, our defense, it’s affected everything. Actually, against Tennessee, I thought defensively, we actually tried. We didn’t rebound it as well as we need to, but I thought we tried to rebound it a little bit better than we had in the previous three games. That tells me that our guys’ desire was in the right place. We still didn’t play as well as we need to.
“Like I said after the game, our offense wasn’t very good. We’ve become real stagnant offensively. You can play stagnant offensively, but you better have a difference maker, a guy that can just go get his shot, that I can say, ‘OK, let’s just kind of milk it to the end of the shot clock, let’s just throw it to this guy in this spot and go make a play.’ I used to do that with a guy named Michael Beasley (at Kansas State) and everyone thought that was great offense.
“We don’t have that, but that’s OK. So that means we have to play offense through our energy. We’ve got to sprint faster than our opponents. We’ve got to screen better than our opponents. And then whenever we get a shot, we’ve got to make sure we go rebound every ball. That’s what we were doing that had given us a chance to succeed. And I kind of saw that again in the Tennessee game. Now our offense has to get better.”
If USC loses tonight, it will fall to .500 for the first time all season, as it tries to avoid its fourth consecutive losing overall record. Martin never had a season like this while winning at least 21 games in each of his five years at Kansas State. So he has had to look further back for lessons on how to remain patient with this team.
“My very first year as a head coach, as a junior varsity head coach, we were 7-2 and we lost seven straight games,” Martin said. “I was, I don’t know, 20 years old at the time. I didn’t know how to handle it. And you’re dealing with 14-year-old kids. They were ninth and 10th graders. I’ve thought back to those days, going through that seven-game losing streak, and what I remember that I tried to do, and I’ve got no idea why I did it, is I stayed with our basics, our foundation, our teaching points, and never, ever did I dwell on a loss. On the contrary, I kept pushing our guys and never lowered our expectations.
“We ended up winning our last four. So what’s that mean? That means that we’re kind of going through that a little bit right now. At K-State my first year, we were 8-2 after 10 league games, tied for first place, and we had a four-game losing streak. Then we had to go to Iowa State, home Colorado to close the year. We won those last two, which put us into the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve been around for a while. It’s not a comfortable place to be in, when you’re going through what we’re going through right now. But at the same time, like I said after the (Tennessee) game, I didn’t show up here to run a 50-yard dash and go home. It’s a long race and there’s a lot of training and a lot of hard days that are in front of us that we’ve got to go through so we can create the toughness and the discipline and the expectations that I want our program to have.”