Martin: "I didn't run away from Kansas State"
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Frank Martin says he didn't leave Kansas State because of problems with Wildcat officials or administrators, no matter how much some believe that's the main reason he took South Carolina's basketball job.
"I didn't run away from Kansas State," Martin told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Martin has spent the past four weeks since taking over the Gamecocks' program from Darrin Horn setting up his office, meeting current players and recruiting new ones. Still, Martin gets asked too frequently, "Why leave a winning Wildcats program for one that was in last place in the Southeastern Conference?"
"I'm just telling you, (Gamecocks AD) Eric Hyman put his arms around me and it was hard for me not to feel the passion that he had for building the men's basketball program," Martin said. "I've never been through this before."
Since taking over for his mentor Bob Huggins, the 46-year-old coach had rejuvenated Kansas State and put together one of the most successful stretches in the Wildcats' long basketball history. The team had reached four NCAA tournaments in the past five years, including a trip to the round of eight in 2010.
Kansas State athletic director Jim Currie said after Martin's departure he always wanted the coach to be part of the long-term fabric of the school. Martin said there was no rift.
"I was happy there. Obviously, there's a team in place that can challenge for that Big 12 championship," he said. "We left a lot of good behind. You don't do that because you're unhappy."
Martin acknowledged moving to the East Coast makes family life easier. He's got relatives in his hometown of Miami while wife Anya is from New York City. "We can see them more frequently now," Martin said.
Martin's barely stopped moving since he was introduced to several hundred fans at the Colonial Life Arena on March 27. He's gotten to know current players while he and his staff - Martin brought his assistant coaches from Kansas State - have worked hard to fill a roster that will see plenty of changes from last year's 10-21 debacle.
Forwards Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris, the team's third and fourth leading scorers last year, are transferring while point guard Bruce Ellington again plans to play football and basketball as he did this past season.
Martin said change brings turnover and he doesn't fault Gill and Harris for doing what they believe is right. What about Ellington's split sports profile? Surely not having his point guard fully locked into basketball from day one is enough to bring out Martin's famous stony stare, right?
"Hey, Bruce is fully committed to this university. Someone who sacrifices to play both sports is giving a lot of themselves to make two different programs better, not just one," Martin said. "I look at it that way, I don't look at it a negative way."
Ellington "is going to be part of our success," Martin said. "And it's up to me to manage it."
Martin's been busy finding recruits who want come on board for South Carolina's rise. Martin said he's got several commitments lined up for the spring, which ends May 16 and he'll announce the group when it's complete. Martin has five scholarships available with the departures of Gill and Harris, plus the cost of Ellington's education being picked up by the football team.
"We'll have 14 scholarship players instead of 13" because of Ellington's status, Martin said. "I can't see that as a bad thing."
Martin's also spent plenty of time visiting fans, boosters and students. He spoke at halftime of the South Carolina's spring football game in front of about 34,000 supporters earlier this month.
"We hired a basketball coach a couple of weeks ago," football coach Steve Spurrier told the crowd. "I believe this man is going to take us places we've never been, Sweet 16s, Elite Eights, Final Fours."
That's Martin's goal, too, although he's not sure how soon that can happen. He and his staff have worked out the players some this month and will do what the rules allow over the next few months. Martin expects to have his recruits in summer school in time to join the returning veterans and give both coaches and players time to bond before the games start.
Martin's enjoying the moments he can as he sets up shop. Duke coach Mike Kzyzewski recently congratulated Martin on his time at Kansas State and offered to anything he could to help him at South Carolina. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive also welcomed Martin to the league family. And then there's the support from Gamecock fans.
Martin said he'd hear how South Carolina fans were dying to win. "Now, that I've been here for a month, that's clear as day," he said. "Now, we've got to do our part."
Updated April 24, 2012