When Frank Martin arrived at South Carolina in 2012, he inherited a program that had finished with a losing record in five of its previous six seasons, including three straight.
Translation? Martin, a former Big 12 Coach of the Year who had revived Kansas State, knew he had another big rebuilding project on his hands. So, he got to work, immediately working to close the gap between South Carolina and the SEC heavyweights.
Four years later, it appears he has. Martin went 28-38 in his first two seasons in Columbia before finishing 17-16 last season. But this year? This year he’s 22-5 and has the Gamecocks one game behind No. 14 Kentucky (20-7, 10-4) in the SEC standings.
“When we got to Kansas State, the top two programs in the Big 12 were Kansas and Texas,” Martin told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Well, when we got here, the top two programs were Kentucky and Florida. The whole objective is not to try and knock those guys down and cut them or act like were tougher than them or any of that nonsense. It’s our job to elevate our program to where they’re at. Those programs have earned the right to get all the credibility and the successes that they have. Well, it’s our jobs to elevate what we do here internally from promotions to administration to coaching to recruiting to the players – the way we act, perform and everything – so we can compete with them consistently. Well, in year four, we’ve beaten Kentucky. Now we’ve beaten Florida.”
The Gamecocks beat Kentucky, 72-67, in March 2014. They beat Florida, 73-69, in overtime on Saturday.
“We continue to try to build our program,” Martin said. “Are we there yet? No, we’re not. But what I do know is this: If we can get our program to the level of a Kentucky or Florida, which have been the two best programs in our conference over the last 10 years, then we’re worthy of competing for an SEC championship, and if you’re worthy of competing for an SEC championship, then you’re going to have an opportunity to play in March. And once you get in that tournament, anything goes.”
South Carolina hosts Tennessee (13-14, 6-8) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.