Struggling Gamecocks get fiery coach

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COLUMBIA — Prepare for “The Stare” at South Caro­lina games next season.

Frank Martin  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Frank Martin

The Gamecocks hired fiery Frank Martin from Kansas State to re-energize a program that has dropped to the bottom of the South­east­ern Conference.

Martin spoke for nearly an hour in front of several hundred fans, media and South Carolina administrators. Afterward, he was asked to demonstrate his harsh, laserlike stare, which was a featured attraction at Wildcat games the past five years.

“It’s something that happens when it’s time to compete,” Martin said, laughing.

He says the time for the Game­cocks to compete is now. He told the players Tuesday that they weren’t far off from SEC success, despite going 10-21 and 2-14 in the league this season.

“I’ve got to figure out a way, and that’s my job, to get them the confidence that they need to win that next game,” Martin said.

The Gamecocks are losing their leading scorer in senior Malik Cooke. Their No. 2 scorer, point guard Bruce Ellington, was back at football practice Tuesday after announcing two weeks ago that he would only play basketball next season.

Martin was asked about Ellington’s desire to play both sports and whether that would work with a new basketball staff.

“I don’t think that’s fair for me to answer that right now because I don’t know Bruce as a young man yet,” he said. “I know him as a player, unbelievable basketball player, but I don’t know him as a person.”

He said he would talk with Ellington over the next few days.

“I can’t force him” to choose, Martin said. “He’s got to do what gives him peace in his heart. Because if he’s got peace in his heart, then he’s got a sane mind and with that combination, then he’ll be the best at whatever he chooses to do.”

Martin signed a six-year deal worth $12.3 million. He’ll make $1.9 million this fall, a step up from his salary of about $1.4 million with the Wildcats. South Carolina also agreed to pay Martin’s $1 million buyout at Kansas State.

South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman spoke with former coaches, players, the NCAA and administrators in the search for a coach to replace Darrin Horn.

“Quite frankly, we feel like we’ve got the right person,” he said.

Martin, 46, called it a whirlwind courtship that really took off this weekend while the coach was in New York helping CBS Sports with its coverage of the NCAA Tournament. Martin joked that he had studio analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony urging him to take the job.

“That’s how much respect people have for South Carolina basketball,” Martin said.

Martin, who was 117-54 in five years with the Wildcats, thanked everyone at Kansas State and discounted any rift with Wildcat athletic director John Currie for the decision to leave. Martin had been upset that the school suspended forward Jamar Samuels before the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

However, “that administration has been phenomenal. I can’t be more thankful for how that administration treated us. They gave us what we needed,” Martin said.

Now, the SEC has another outsized personality to match up with league heavyweights such as Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Martin said he got a text from a friend, Alabama coach Anthony Grant, that read, “Frank, our league just got better.”

Martin is the son of Cuban immigrants who coached high school basketball in Miami for 15 years and was an assistant at Northeastern for four seasons before Bob Huggins brought him on to his staff at Cincinnati. Martin credits Huggins helping him get into college coaching.

Martin knew about South Carolina’s program from following former Gamecocks star Devan Downey, who spent his freshman year at Cin­cin­nati when Martin was assistant to then-Bearcats coach Huggins. Martin remembered watching highlights of Downey and his teammates celebrating their stunning 68-62 victory over No. 1 Kentucky in 2010.

Things slumped for South Carolina under Horn since that point. The Gamecocks have lost 24 of their past 27 SEC games. Horn finished his career at South Carolina 23-45 in league games and 60-63 overall with three losing seasons in a row.

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