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, Coach 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 opener victory against Milwaukee, 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 led 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.