It took all of two games for new South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin to show you why he’s known as one of the most candid men in his sport.
After USC’s 87-71 win Friday night over Morgan State, Martin started by praising the fans for their energy, then he unloaded on his team, and himself.
“I’m also embarrassed, embarrassed by our performance, embarrassed that people paid money for their tickets and gave up their time to come watch our team play today,” he said. “I’m embarrassed. We had been real good for about two weeks, 17 days or so and we probably could’ve had a kindergarten class be more enthusiastic and more disciplined in practice yesterday than our team. I’m one of those guys that I truly believe that you perform the way you practice and we obviously performed that way today. We didn’t do anything, not one thing that we talk about doing, to help our team figure out a way to win games. We just won because we won. We didn’t win because of who we are or how we play.”
He liked that USC attacked the rim on offense and shot 26 free throws – a big part of its offense.
“That’s what I believe. When I was hired, they asked me how we were going to play and I said, ‘I believe in pressure. I believe in pressure defensively. I believe in pressure offensively.’ That’s how we practice, that’s how we play, that’s how we played in the exhibition game, that’s how we played Milwaukee and that’s how we’ll play 10 years from now if the good Lord allows me to be the basketball coach here. That’s part of our deal.”
He liked some of what his only post player, R.J. Slawson, did while scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds. But not all of it, not by any stretch.
“We need R.J. to be a good player for us. We need him to have confidence. But once again, and I don’t mean to dwell on the negative, but it’s just that when there’s 90 percent negative after a game, and 10 percent positive, there’s just so much more negative to talk about than there is positive plays. A guy once upon a time told me, ‘Coach, I had a player one day tell me, ‘Coach, why are you so negative?’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you make more positive plays so I can be a little more positive?’” I kind of believe in that a little bit.
“(Slawson) has got the ability. He’s had real good moments for us in practice. He had good moments today, but just on par with everything else, we tell him to check in for Brian Richardson and he checks in for Mindaugas (Kacinas). Then he knows we’ve been playing 3-2 zone and he goes out there and runs up to the top of the key and fouls the guy with a minute to go in the game. He can be a good player for us and he’s trying. I’ll give him that. And it’ll come.”
So what bothered Martin most about USC’s game Friday?
“It’s how we practiced yesterday. Just completely disinterested. Against Milwaukee, we tried, man. We tried. Here’s a positive stat: We had some guys actually take charges today. That was part of our scouting report, was when we pressure them, they put their heads down and drive, and they tend – we saw it on film – they tend to jump off one leg, out of control. We told our guys, ‘Rotate over the way we’re supposed to and take charges.’
“But we spend way too much time in being a good defensive team to allow … let’s be honest, now. It’s not like we’re playing freshmen. I’m playing a fifth-year senior. I’m playing two guys that have been three-year players here. I’m playing Lakeem Jackson, who is a four-year player here. Damien Leonard’s been through it. Those are guys that are playing right now. Last year (at Kansas State), and it’s not to compare one team with the other, one has nothing to do with the other, but we had three freshmen and a sophomore in our top seven players and we held people under 40 percent consistently.
“We go out today and we give up 53 percent from the field. You can’t win that way. You can’t win. We’re just fortunate that we won today. We didn’t win because we played the game the right way. We disrespected the game today. We spend a lot of time in practice to play the game a certain way and we didn’t do it. And that’s unacceptable.”
Martin liked how USC handled Morgan State’s length, though.
“It didn’t affect us because we shot 53 percent from the field. If we didn’t give them 10 breakaway dunks because we don’t know how to pass the ball to the wing or dribble the ball across the half-court line for that matter, their size really never bothered us. We shot 26 free throws, so I guess we did that good. We continued to attack the rim. We grabbed 35 rebounds to their 22. I’m not big on all that stuff. You’ve got to have good players, whether they’re 5-11 or 6-11. They’ve got to be good players.”
And he had to be encouraged by some of what Leonard and Richardson did while scoring six and 10 points off the bench, right?
“They made shots, but they didn’t do anything right. The problem is people go home and they say, ‘Well, they made shots.’ Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to take those shots, and when you’re supposed to shoot them, you’re supposed to make a high percentage of them. But you have to play through the team concepts and not one guy did that today. That goes back to me. It’s not on them, now. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want you guys to go back and write, ‘Oh, Frank’s blaming players.’ All this is on me, not on them. It’s my job to get them to play the game the right way. I obviously didn’t do a very good job of that for this game, because we didn’t play through the disciplines and the structure that we spend countless hours trying to prepare.
“(Leonard and Richardson) made shots. Hopefully that helps their confidence so when they’re open and they do things the right way, they make their shots. But I’m on this team all the time about: You’ve got to have pride. What do you stand for? Who do you stand for? Who do you represent? Those are the questions that I ask this team on a daily basis. And today, we didn’t represent anything. We didn’t stand for anything. We didn’t have any pride in our concepts and who we are. We just played. And that’s unacceptable.”
USC got some better rebounding from its guards, though, which Martin knows his undersized team needs.
“Against Milwaukee, they were predominantly a three-point shooting team and there were a lot of rebounds that bounced out to that 15, 16, 17 foot area and our guards never came up with one. When you play against a team that shoots a lot of 3s, you’ve got to really work to contest those shots and we tell our guys, ‘Make those shooters shoot it a little higher and a little quicker.’ So when you start shooting a lot of threes, if you can get them to miss some, you’ve got an opportunity to get a lot of long rebound and the one thing that we do have is speed. See, when you have speed, you can neutralize size. If you’re like me, fat and slow, you can’t neutralize size.
“And we’ve got speed. If we can get those long rebounds, we’ve got opportunities in the open court and then it’s basketball players making basketball plays in the open court, which is part of what we try to do. I think we were better at that today. I thought Brian Richardson, LaShay, I thought they got their heads in there and rebounded that ball a little bit on the defensive side.
“Michael (Carrera, who missed the game with a concussion), he got whacked in the head pretty good (during Wednesday’s practice). I think we all understand, regardless of the sport, where we’re at with guys and head injuries. When he’s good to go and the doctors say he’s good to go, we’ll unleash him out there again. We had to fight him to keep him off the court today. If you know Michael, you understand how much it means to play. That’s his life.”
OK, so where does Martin start Saturday’s practice?
“Sure you want me to answer that? It’s still kind of early. We could be here for a while with the answer you’re asking me for now. Guarding the basketball, number one. So that means if your man has the ball, how about being in a stance and guarding the ball? And then all our rules off the ball: Where do you belong? Don’t play behind people. Don’t go for steals. Help your teammate out. Shrink gaps.
“Basketball is a game of gaps, OK? Offensive basketball, all you want to do is you want to space the court. You’ve got to move the ball. So you’ve got to have good floor spacing and you’ve got to have ball movement. You’ve got to have both. What you’re trying to do is get the defense to expand, so if you can get the defense to expand, the gaps are bigger. Wider gaps, now you can get the ball inside, OK? Our defense today was atrocious. The gaps were as wide as this room in our defense today. That’s selfish basketball.
“Mike Krzyzewski said this, and I was watching him in an interview, and he was talking about the USA basketball team and he used it with his team at Duke and he said, ‘Not talking is the most selfish play that human being can make.’ Because that means that you’re only concerned about yourself, not your team. Our team doesn’t talk. Michael Carrera and LaShay Page talk. Everyone else, I think they do all their talking on Twitter, because they don’t get off Twitter, but they don’t say boo on the court. So communicate. We’ve got to learn how to talk.
“All those things are things that we have to make sure we work on tomorrow to clean things up. And those are the cliff’s notes, because I could go on here for a while.”