News Columns & Blogs

Frank Martin and South Carolina

Quite a buzz was created Friday night as various news outlets – some credible, most not – stirred with news that Frank Martin was either: A) Going to coach at South Carolina; B) Interested in talking to South Carolina; C) Unaware of anything happening at South Carolina; or D) Captured by aliens and whisked away to another planet.

We really don’t know what’s happening with Martin, Kansas State’s basketball coach, other that there’s a strong likelihood he’s not on another planet.

Unless, of course, you consider South Carolina to be one. And in coaching circles, that might be the case.

Late Friday, “The Sporting News,” a credible source, reported that South Carolina had sought permission to talk to Martin, who earlier sent a mass text to the media that he had not talked to anyone.

So the best guess, after all the dust has settled, is that Martin will visit with the Gamecocks soon, perhaps as soon as Monday. But that could change in an instant and it will be interesting to watch Martin provide studio commentary on CBS’ coverage of the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

On the surface, it makes no sense for Martin to leave Kansas State, where he could have a team in the hunt for a Big 12 championship next season, for South Carolina, which hasn’t won a conference championship since 1997 and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973, the year I supposedly graduated from high school though I have no documented proof.

Martin makes good money – about $1.5 million – and could be in line for a raise if he is still around when his contract talks with K-State athletic director John Currie are scheduled to take place on April 1. He has helped make basketball relevant again in Manhattan, which had only football and women’s basketball to cheer on for many seasons while the men’s basketball program languished under Tom Asbury and Jim Wooldridge.

Plus, K-Staters like Martin, although I’m guessing they’re growing weary of his flirtations with other schools. Last year, both UNLV and Miami (Fla.) were thought to be in the Martin hunt, but neither made an offer.

South Carolina fired Darrin Horn last week after four seasons, during which he was 60-63. South Carolina was just 10-21 this season and home attendance dropped to an average of 8,868 in an 18,000-seat arena.

I was surprised to learn that despite years of struggles and apathy, South Carolina has had only six coaches since Frank McGuire stepped down after the 1979-80 season after 16 seasons and a 283-142 record. McGuire guided the Gamecocks to three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 1971-73, but South Carolina has had only scarce success since under Bill Foster (1981-86), George Felton (1997-91), Steve Newton (1992-93), Eddie Fogler (1994-2001), Dave Odom (2002-08) and Horn, who won just 23 of 68 SEC games.

There is belief that a cool relationship between Martin and Currie could lead to the coach finding other employment. That relationship soured even more, sources have said, because of Currie’s decision last week to hold senior forward Jamar Samuels out of an NCAA Tournament third-round game against Syracuse because of a $200 payment made to Samuels by his former AAU coach.

Not many other details of that situation have come out. Given that, I understand Currie’s decision but can also empathize with Martin, who was heartbroken that an important player was denied an opportunity to play in his final college game because of $200.

Martin has not responded to interview requests to talk about the decision to hold Samuels out of the Syracuse game while Currie issued a statement on Kansas State’s athletic website explaining some of the reasons for his decision.

Do I think South Carolina is a serious player for Martin?

Strangely, I do. I would have never thought Martin would be in play for the Gamecocks, given their lack of success over decades. And don’t tell me back-to-back NIT championships in 2005-06 amounted to much.

But South Carolina is desperate now. Athletic director Eric Hyman will probably have upwards of $2 million to spend. The Gamecocks’ basketball fan base, which has remained surprisingly strong considering the plight of the team, wants a winner.

Martin is a winner. And he’s a winner who seems unhappy in his current job. This will be an interesting few days.