Looking back with the hiring of Frank Martin

                               As the Gamecocks get ready for their first trip to the Final Four, I look back to see where this team came from, going from a 10-win team in Darrin Horn’s final year, to the administration bringing in a fierce coach from K-State in Frank Martin to rebuild this team basically from scratch. During the off-season between Coach Horn being let go and Coach Martin taking over, many players would wind up transferring from the program and others would follow throughout Coach Martin’s first couple of years in Columbia. In his first two seasons at the helm, darrin hornCoach Martin didn’t win many games, and it seemed as if this team would be sub .500 for a while.  The Gamecocks hadn’t gotten  into the big dance since ’04 and it didn’t look like that was going to happen anytime soon.

                In Coach Martin’s first season, you could tell no one believed in that team and no one wanted to get disappointed by watching  them as well when less than half of the stadium was filled in the season opener of the 2012 season. In the season open victory against frank martinMilwaukee, the attendance for that game was at 7,335, which is drastically less than half of the possible attendance of 18,000.  Most probably didn’t want to pay to watch what was expected to be a bad team. As seasons went by, the attendance increased.

                Starting in his 3rd season in 2014 Coach Martin had the Gamecocks moving in the right direction. Despite losing 16 games that year, they also won 17 games for their first winning season since Darrin Horn’s first year at the helm in the ’08-’09 season when the team went 21-10 and made the NIT. By posting a winning season in his 3rd year, Coach Martin ended a streak of 5 straight losing years for this team, and as we are seeing, this team is not done winning just yet. Since his 3rd year going 17-16, Frank Martin has lead this team to a 51-19 overall record the last 2 years combined, going 25-9 last year and 26-10 so far, this year, and this team seems to be getting better each year.

                   Looking back now at the time before Coach Martin was here, it seems like it was a lot longer than 5 years that he has been here and that the Gamecocks only won 10 games the year prior to his arrival in Columbia. It goes to show that he has done such a wonderful job on this rebuilding project and how he never gave up on this team and believed that he can make this team into a winner. In his introductory press conference, Coach Martin talked about how he likes a challenge and doesn’t run away from them like others do. In an article on ESPN written around the time of the hiring, Coach Martin is quoted as saying “When people ask me ‘why’, I ask, ’why not?” This was his response to people asking him why would he take the South Carolina job. He goes on to say that he would love having another opportunity to build a program up, like what he did with K-State.  It seems as if Coach Martin was up to the challenge to take on the rebuilding project of South Carolina Men’s basketball.

                This team has competed at a whole new level this year compared to years past, but you could even say that this team is on an even newer level in the tournament than they were in the regular season, after they finished the regular season going 3-6 in the last nine games and not being expected to win anything in the NCAA tournament. Now they have a chance to play in the National Championship if they can get passed the best defensive team in the nation in Gonzaga.

Are the Gamecocks for Real? Just ask Baylor, Florida, Duke, and Marquette.

              Coming into this tournament, no one really gave the University of South Carolina a chance, and for good reasons. This was a team with a horribleball1 past with basketball. They only had 4 tournament wins in their history, they haven’t been in the big dance in 13 years, and they haven’t even won a game in 44 years! Now, would you pick a team with that history to get to the Final Four, while having to go through the likes of an upstart Marquette team, the winningest basketball coach in Coach K, a tough well rounded Baylor team, or a team that beats you 8 out of 10 times and sometimes bad? No? Well majority of the people are right there with you, including me. Well, majority of people would be wrong. The Gamecocks beat all four of these great teams to earn an appearance into their first ever Final Four.

            It’s weird when you think about it. Coming into the tournament, this team was 2-5 over their last 7 games, including the SEC tournament, with a weak defense and not scoringbracket well, and they come into the tournament and beat Marquette and Baylor by 20 points each, and beat Duke and Florida by 7 points also. Yes, the amount they won by is impressive, but the fact that they beat all four of those teams is what is more impressive than anything else. What most people are shocked about, including myself, is that during the Duke game, the Gamecocks were down by 7 at the half after shooting 7-35 overall, then coming into the second half and just going off on both ends of the floor allowing them to put up 65 points on the Blue Devils to win 88-81.

            Entering the Sweet 16 match up against Baylor, the Gamecocks were not favored even after beating Duke. You could tell by watching this team that the Gamecocks are out to prove that they belong. Like I said before, this team has a bad past with basketball, and only 4 NCAA tournament wins, and had not been to the tournament in over a decade. When the team fell behind 15-13 about half way through the first half, it seemed like something clicked for this team, and they ran away with the game, going on an 18-0 run and a lead that would only get as close as 11 points. They would end up winning by 20 and holding Baylor to 50 points, which is well below their season average.

            That brings us to today. The Elite 8 match up against a familiar foe in the Florida Gators. Entering this game, the Gamecocks were 2-8 in their last 10 games against Florida and losing by an average of 13.3 points per game, but this team was out to prove that they belong. The first half though, it seemed like the magic had worn off and that this would be the end of the line for these Gamecocks, but it was just the same story as the other 2 comeback wins. The defense woke up and was hungry for gator meat, and held them to 0/14 from 3 in the second half after they hit 7/12 from 3 in the first half. The Gamecocks wound up taking the Gators down and are not giving up just yet.

            This Gamecocks team will not stop until they prove that they belong in the tournament more. Even if this team falls to Gonzaga in the Final Four, I truly believe that Coach Martin and his staff will have this team back in the big dance next year, even with the seniors leaving including SEC player of the year, Sindarius Thornwell. Coach Martin has done such an amazing job since taking over for the 2012-13 season, and leading us from a dumpster fire of a team that only won 10 games the year prior, to appearing in the Final Four only 6 years later! Coach Martin will lead us to a title one day, I believe it. To answer my own question, in my opinion yes, the Gamecocks are for real now.

Is a “big 3” big enough these days?

durant warriorsAs many in the sports world know, Kevin Durant elected to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors to team up with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, forming possibly the greatest team ever in the history of the NBA. Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors is also significant due to the fact that with the signing, they are forming the league’s first “Big 4”. Since 2000 there have been at least 13 times when franchises create a “Big 3”. The last time would be when the Warriors drafted Draymond Green. Forming a “super team” does not always guarantee a championship right away, or at all.

mia-big-three

 As we saw when LeBron James and Chris Bosh elected to go to the Miami Heat in free agency in the summer before the 2010-11 season joining Dwayne Wade, they were prematurely crowned champs. The Heat struggled mightily in the first couple of months in the season going 10-8. After they managed to jell after the 10-8 start they would go 48-16 the rest of the season and finish 58-24. They managed to get to the NBA finals, but would lose to the Mavs in 6 games. This “Big 3” would be together the next 3 year and reach the NBA finals every year they were together, winning 2 straight then losing to the Spurs in their 4th appearance. Following the Finals lose to the Spurs, LeBron James elected to go back to the Cavaliers in hopes of finally bringing a championship home.

The Miami Heat had another “Big 3” in 05-06 when they signed Hall of famer Gary Payton to go along with Shaq and Dwayne Wade. This “Big 3”would help lead Miami to the franchise’s first championship ever. This group would only be together for 2 years due to Payton retiring and O’Neal being traded to Phoenix.  This is one of the cases where a “super team” does not always bring championships.

lakersz

In the summer before the 03-04 season the Lakers were able to recruit Karl Malone and Gary Payton to team up with Kobe and Shaq. People did call this a “Big 4” I do not really see it as one due to the fact that they didn’t play together much. I really think of it as a “Big 3” with a mentor. I consider the “Big 3” to consist of Kobe, Shaq, and Gary. I do not Include Karl Malone in the group due to him playing the fewest games out of all of them. That season they were able to win a championship, but it was the only season they would play together. Shaq would get traded to Miami, Karl would retire and Gary would be traded to the Boston Celtics.

spurs big 3

The Spurs had the greatest “Big 3” in the history of the league. The grouping of Manu Ginobilli, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker. This group has led the franchise to 5 titles, and an NBA record 129 playoff wins. This group, alongside the coaching of the one of the greatest coaches, Gregg Popovich, has achieved the status of being the ideal franchise in terms of constant winning. During this off-season, the NBA world saw this power group breakup with the retiring of Tim Duncan.

laker fail

The 2013 L.A. Lakers team was a case where forming a “super team” back fired badly.  The L.A. Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to play alongside Kobe. This “super team” failed horribly due to Nash’s chronic injuries and missed playing time. Howard and Bryant did not want to share the court with one another. Howard ultimately would be traded that following off season. Another example is the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston. The team was never really able to form a cohesive and highly-functional group. To make things worse, the Nets gave up their first round picks for the next couple years to Boston. The 1st first round pick ended up being the 3rd overall pick, and neither Garnett nor Pierce were on the team anymore.

boston big 3

In the off season before the 07-08 season, the Boston Celtics were trying to land a super star to go along with their franchise player Paul “the Truth” Pierce, in hopes of winning banner 16. Boston had not been a real favorable place for players that wanted to join. The team had not been the monster it was back when it went on to win 8 straight championships. Danny Ainge, the GM, was somehow able to pull a trade off and bring Ray Allen from Seattle, and Kevin Garnett from Minnesota. During that following season, the Celtics were a completely different team. They went on to go 66-16 after a disappointing 24-58 season, which is the best single season turn-around for a team in NBA history. They did struggle some in the playoffs, but managed to beat their arch rival L.A. Lakers in the finals to win banner 17. This is one of the rare cases in the Modern day NBA for a “super team” to win the title in the first year.

Yes, I know that there are many “Big 3’s”, but the game is not the same as it was in the years of Hall of Famers Magic, Bird, Russell, and Kareem.

Is it time to move away from the lottery system.

           As many people saw this past week, the NBA held the annual lottery to determine where the bottom 14 teams would draft, with the Philadelphia 76ers taking the #1 overall pick in the draft. The lottery system gives every team a certain percent chance to get the top pick. The downside of the lottery is that the worst team in the league more often than not does not get the top pick. This year was one of the few times that the worst team did end up with the first pick in the draft. I do not agree with the lottery system and I think the league should get rid of it and just line the draft up with the top pick going to the worst team, like how the NFL and MLB order their drafts. The drafts are used to help improve the teams. The lottery system does not give the worst team a sure thing at getting the top pick and their choice of talent. Since the lottery system went to a weighted lottery system in 1990, the worst team in the league has only received the top pick 5 times including the 76ers receiving the top pick for this year’s draft. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to give the worst team the first pick in the draft?

ball1

                Giving the worst team the first pick would be beneficial because they would be able to pick their possible franchise player. The first team to win the lottery after it went to a weighted system was the New Jersey Nets in 1990 after they went 17-65. The Nets also were the bottom team in the league that year. The year after they received the top pick they improved to 26-56 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. Since 1990 the teams who received the top pick, only 4 teams did not improve their record the following year. The 22 teams who did improve their records the following year, saw an improvement of 11.1 wins. The biggest improvement came when the Spurs took Tim Duncan #1. They went from 20-62 to 56-26. The teams who had the worst record in the league but did not win the #1 pick, only two teams did not improve their records the next year. The teams that did improve their records, did it by an average of 11.9 wins. I know that is a bigger improvement than the teams who got the top pick, but the teams with the top pick had decent records for the most part. When the Magic had the top pick for the second straight year, they were 41-41. Since the weighted lottery began there have been 6 teams that received the top pick who won at least 30 games that season including the Magic when they received the top overall pick for the second consecutive year.

  ball1            In my opinion, the lottery needs to be taken out and the draft lined up the same way that the NFL and MLB drafts are set up, where the draft order is determined by the teams place in the overall league standings. It only seems fair to let the worst team in the league try to improve their teams first, instead of having them wait to pick their player after some of the top players are being selected ahead of them. I know that teams are not guaranteed to improve with the draft, and I know that there will be busts at any selection, but it is only fair to let the worst team in the league that year figure that out on their own

.lotto

Is this the same ole Redskins in the free agency?

          On April 22, 2016 as many people in the sports world know, the Washington Redskins signed all pro CB Josh Norman away from the Panthers, after they rescinded the franchise tag that was placed on him, making him an unrestricted free agent. Everyone who has been following sports, especially the NFL knows that since Dan Snyder became the owner of the Redskins, free agent signings to this magnitude have not worked out in the organizations favor. The most recent big free agent debacle would have to be Albert Haynesworth, who the Redskins signed to a $100 million contract over 7 years. This signing also is the biggest idiotic move on the part of the Redskins, because of two reasons. One is that even though at first it looked like they were getting someone to power that defensive line, it ended up being a big baby in a man’s body. The second reason is that at one point he refused to run drills or get into shape. Other notable big name busts the Redskins have signed are Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Jeremiah Trotter, etc.

crybaby

                Most of the players that the Redskins have signed in the past were way past their primes and on the verge of retiring. Haynesworth on the other hand, was only 28 when he was brought to DC, just like Norman. The difference between Haynesworth and Norman that I can see is Norman has better work ethic and is actually in his prime. Haynesworth was starting his downward slope from his prime. You could also say that he was somewhat just in it for the money, therefore not willing to perform at 100%. From what I have seen during Panther games on TV and heard about him through the media, he is very energetic and very passionate about the game of football. Some say he has an attitude problem, and that could be true, but he also has a team oriented attitude. Josh Norman wants to help whatever team he is on succeed.

football

                Checking Twitter on the 22nd, while I was tracking the coverage of his visit with the management team for the Redskins, I was seeing people already thinking that Norman will suck with the Redskins and will not succeed at all. This bothers me, because how can you already assume that someone will fail with a certain team before they ever play a down for that team. Yes, the Skins have failed on a lot of big name free agency signings, but most of them were past their prime and could not play as well. Since the free agent busts began with the Skins, that organization has become the laughing stock of the league. What people do not take into consideration is that you cannot coach someone to be younger and quicker than they really are, or coach a player to be about the team and not himself.

  contract1

       I see the Josh Norman signing not as a signing that could be as disastrous as Haynesworths was, but instead I see it as a signaling of a new day for the defense of the Washington Redskins. Especially, the Skins secondary. These last few years I truly have seen Mr. Snyder coming into his own as an owner. When he first bought the Redskins, he would jump at any future hall of famer that was toward the end of his career, like Smith or Sanders. Mr. Snyder has learned his lesson when it comes to free agency. Since the Haynesworth signing he has not tried to sign a lot of the top tier names, but low tier guys that can come in and help the team.

When is the time right to fire a coach?

   

    How does an organization or college know when to fire a coach? Is it after one losing season, or is it after multiple straight losing seasons. In some cases coaches do not even last multiple full seasons. In 2014 the NBA team New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher right after he retired from playing basketball. In his first season, the Knicks went 17-65. That season the Knicks averaged the fewest points per game in the league at 91.9 ppg and gave up 101.2 ppg which ranked in the bottom half of the league at 21st. This past season Derek was fired when the team was 23-31. At the point of his firing the Knicks were averaging 99 ppg, which was an increase from the previous year,  and they were giving up 101 ppg, which was better than the year before even if it is .2 points per game better.

     After Coach Fisher was relieved of his duties as coach, the Knicks promoted his assistant coach Kurt Rambis to interim head coach. With Rambis as the head man of the team for the final 28 games of the year the team’s scoring average dipped to 97 ppg, while the amount they give up stayed at 101 ppg. In this situation, Derek Fisher should have been able to keep his job to at least the end of the season since the team was improving.

      I was caught off guard by the Derek Fisher firing because the team was improving from his first year. It also caught me off guard, because if Derek Fisher got fired for going 40-96 over 2+ years with the Knicks, why have the Philadelphia 76ers not fired their current coach. Since Brett Brown took the head coaching job with the 76ers the team has not been able to win close games. The 76ers have not improved as much as they should have since he has taken over. In his first year the team went 19-63, while scoring 99.5 ppg ranking them at 19th offensively and giving up 109.9 ppg ranking them at 30th defensively. In year 2 under Brown the offense regressed to only scoring 92 ppg, which ranked 29th in the league, while the defense improved allowing 101 ppg, which ranked 20th in the league. This past year was the worst under coach Brown. The 76ers went 10-72 and scored 97.4 ppg and gave up 107.6 ppg, both of which ranked 29th in the league. The 76ers record under Brown all together is 47-199, which is a winning percentage of .191.

ball1

    In football it seems that there are a lot more firings, either during the season or right after it ends. Lovie Smith took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2014-15 NFL season, following his coaching career with the Bears. He coached the team to a  2-14 record scoring 17.3 ppg which was 29th, but gave up 25.6 ppg which was 25th in the league. The following season they improved to 6-10 and scored 21.4 ppg that ranked 20th in the league, and gave up 26.1 ppg that ranked 26th in the league. Lovie would end up being relieved of his duties as head coach following the season. Coach Smith should have been allowed one more year to show that he was improving the team, but I guess teams are impatient sometimes and want to win right away.

football

Having different expectations with certain coaches before they start is not always the good way to go.

            At the end of this past college football season, an unbelievable amount of head coaching jobs opened up. During this past season 10 head coaching jobs opened up, then during the off season 18 more opened up due to coaches getting jobs else where. One of the most notable openings was at South Carolina, when Steve Spurrier stepped down mid season and replaced with Shawn Elliot. During the off season the Gamecocks hired former UF head coach Will Muschamp. When this was announced many people, including myself at first, saw this as a horrible hiring and were mad that the Gamecocks missed out on the likes of Kirby Smart, who went to UGA, and Tom Herman, the head man of the Houston Cougars.

         footballThe biggest reason for the outrage towards the hire was that Muschamps tenure at Florida did not go as a lot of people would have wanted it to. His numbers at Florida did not indicate he would get another crack at a head coaching job after one year of being a defensive coordinator, especially in the SEC. Muschamp was the head man at Florida from 2011-14, after being the DC and possible replacement of the great Mack Brown at Texas. He went 28-21 while at Florida. I can understand why people do not think he is a good coach, but what people do not seem to take into consideration is that he was coming into a job with HUGE expectations.

            He had to follow in the foot steps of Urban Meyer, the Gators second best coach behind, ironically, Steve Spurrier. People are to quick to judge a coach. One of the greatest football coaches this generation has ever seen, Nick Saban, had his struggles early on in his career. After coach Saban left Toledo after one year, he went to Michigan St. While the coach of the Spartans, coach Saban collected a record of 34-24-1 over 5 years before going to coach LSU. Nick Sabans winning percentage at Michigan St is barely better then that of Muschamps winning percentage at Florida. Mack Brown is a sure thing hall of fame coach for college football, but his first few years did not go to well. Coach Brown got his first head coaching job at Tulane. His record during his tenure there would be 11-23. That is a winning percentage of .324. After his tenure at Tulane, he would go on to find some success leading the UNC Tar heels program, before landing at UT and leading that program to monumental success with a national title in 2005 and another trip to the title game in ’09.

        clipboardWhat I am saying is that you can not judge a book by its cover. Another great example of that in another sport would be the Boston Celtics taking a risk and hiring Brad Stevens away from his successful coaching career at Butler. Many thought this could be disastrous because college coaches have not really found success in the pros, but coach Stevens is slowly proving that wrong in only his third year at the head. Many are already saying he is one of the future coaching greats. Coach Stevens NBA career started rocky going 25-57 his first year, but he has improved his record last year and this year, going 40-42 and 48-34 respectively, with two playoff appearances. Coaches, no matter the league or sport, learn from their mistakes or learn to adapt to new leagues.