South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman
is the leader in the clubhouse in making an offseason basketball coach hire. Raiding Kansas State for Frank Martin
was a masterstroke.
It wasn’t all that surprising that Martin bolted K-State despite his impressive run of success there. The word last year was that he was interested in the Tennessee job that eventually went to Cuonzo Martin
, so he was obviously looking for a new challenge. And it wasn’t surprising that Martin would be interested in South Carolina. The school hasn’t had success in basketball in recent years, but having to play Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee twice a year has made upward mobility difficult.
In order to bust the program out of the hole in which it’s been buried, Hyman had to hire a coach that was a proven recruiter and motivator. Martin is both. He’ll pull the Gamecocks up by the sheer force of his will and that nasty scowl of his. Not since the days of Wimp Sanderson has the league seen such a menacing mug.
“Some people run away from challenges,” Martin said on Tuesday at the press conference that formally announced his hiring. “I run to them. I always have.”
Perhaps Martin didn’t get along with his athletic director at K-State, John Currie
, as has been widely reported, but don’t think for a second he would have committed professional suicide to bolt for a job where he didn’t think he could win. Credit Martin for having the guts to take on a job with potential in a competitive league. And credit Hyman for finding someone who wanted to be at South Carolina.
It seems hard to believe, but in 2007 many pundits criticized K-State for promoting Martin to head coach after his boss Bob Huggins
left for West Virginia. In his five seasons in Manhattan, Martin was 117-54 and took the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournaments, including the regional finals in 2010. He was ready for the challenge of succeeding Huggins, and now he’s even more prepared for the challenges at South Carolina.
Just as it is everywhere, recruiting will be a key at South Carolina. Martin will find players to fit his system, but he’s likely to look in some unconventional places. He’ll sign some junior college transfers, which isn’t done often by the schools from the old SEC East Division, and he’ll probably take some international players.
It’s all about finding that go-to source for talent. That’s Martin’s forte.
‘CATS ON THE GLASS
: Kentucky has taken one step farther in the NCAA Tournament every year in coach John Calipari
’s tenure, and if it wants to take the next one - the NCAA title game - here’s how it’s going to happen: To beat Louisville, the Wildcats will have to defensive rebound as well as or better than it did against Baylor in the South Regional finals.
Kentucky gang-rebounded against the Bears and made some manly grabs in traffic. If the Wildcats can do that against Louisville, it’ll serve two purposes:
One, it’ll help ignite Kentucky’s transition game, which helped the Wildcats quickly separate from Baylor.
Two, it’ll keep the Cardinals from doing damage from 3-point range. Louisville, which finished fifth in the Big East in offensive rebounding, likes to crash the offensive glass and pass out to an open 3 shooter.
ATTRITION BEGINS AT STATE
: The Mississippi State hoops news came rapid fire on Monday. First freshman DeVille Smith
announced he was leaving the program. Then Murray State announced that it had given first-year coach Steve Prohm
a raise and a contract extension, thereby eliminating State athletic director Scott Stricklin
’s supposed No. 1 candidate to replace the retired Rick Stansbury
Finally, junior post man Renardo Sidney
announced he was declaring for the NBA Draft. His comment to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger was priceless: “I’ve been thrown in the fire all year, so I’m not going back through that stuff any more.”
Wonder if Sidney has ever stopped to consider that some of the “fire” he talked about was caused by him?
Despite Sidney’s seeming reluctance to get with the program - i.e., get in shape, run down the court on defense, etc. - he’s probably going to get drafted by an NBA team looking to find a skilled low-post presence. And Sidney is definitely skilled.
KENNEDY STAYING PUT
: Ole Miss did the right thing when it announced last weekend it would renegotiate coach Andy Kennedy
’s contract rather than risk losing him to his alma mater, UAB.
UAB wouldn’t have matched Kennedy’s $1.3 million annual salary, but it was rumored to be willing to give him a six-year deal in the $700,000 a year range. Kennedy had two years left on his Ole Miss contract, so if UAB really was offering a guaranteed $4.2 mil, he might have had something to think about.
People just don’t realize how good a job Kennedy has done in Oxford, where it’s hard to recruit players even though Ole Miss is a great academic institution. Kennedy has won 20 games and earned an NIT bid in five of his six seasons. The one season the Rebels didn’t win 20 or get to the postseason, his starting backcourt was gutted by season-ending injuries to Chris Warren
, Trevor Gaskins
and Eneil Polynice
That may not sound that impressive at some schools, but at Ole Miss, it’s a solid measure of consistency. Kennedy’s task is to find a way to win two more games during the regular season, the difference between the NIT and NCAA Tournament. Here’s how fine a line that can be, though: All-SEC forward Murphy Holloway
injured an ankle against Middle Tennessee in late December and the Rebels lost that game and two of the three others he missed. If Holloway hadn’t been injured and Ole Miss were 3-1 in those games, it would probably have earned at at-large NCAA bid.