South Carolina‘s Frank Martin admits he did a bad job as men’s basketball coach last season. He also believes his track record shows that he knows how to turn things around.
“I did a poor job of leading this year,” Martin said Thursday of the Gamecocks’ 6-15 season, the worst showing in his 14 years of coaching at Kansas State and South Carolina.
South Carolina never found its footing, and Martin acknowledged he couldn’t help his players get in rhythm.
“We’ve got work to do, man,” he said. “What happened last year was unacceptable. I think I’m going to bet on myself that I’ll figure this one out.”
The coronavirus pandemic certainly played a role. There were two program shutdowns over a stretch of 41 days in which the Gamecocks played just twice and did not have a complete team to practice because of medical protocols.
Martin tested positive for COVID-19 twice since May, the second time a more serious illness during South Carolina’s dormant period in January.
Martin remains confident he can steady things going forward. He has done it before, he noted, taking a South Carolina team that was last in the SEC the year before his arrival in 2013 to the Final Four in 2017. At 18-13, the Gamecocks were on the NCAA tournament bubble in 2020 before the pandemic canceled the event.
He got some breathing room last week to make that happen with a two-year contract extension that ties him to the program through the 2024-25 season. There was no raise. Plus, Martin’s buyout of $6.5 million if he were let go right now would be reduced to zero should the school fire him after two more years.
“Is it the contract I wanted? No,” Martin said. “But if they didn’t want me here, they could’ve fired me.”
Martin said he had lengthy, candid conversations with athletic director Ray Tanner reviewing why things went wrong last season. Tanner said he was confident Martin had a plan to get things fixed and recommended the extension to school president Bob Caslen.
“This was a decision I think we collectively made, which was the best interest of the university,” Caslen said earlier this week.
The new contract came after South Carolina was placed on two years’ probation in February for bribes accepted by former assistant coach Lamont Evans.
Martin will have a different roster to help him try to get back to winning. Five members of the team, including fourth-year forward Justin Minaya, have entered the transfer portal.
Two starters and double-digit scorers, forward Keyshawn Bryant and point guard Jermaine Couisnard, are going through the NBA draft process but have not signed with agents. Martin said both have been at offseason workouts and that he expects them to return.
The wait will be longer for the team’s top scorer last season, 6-foot-6 AJ Lawson, to decide his plans for 2021-22. He averaged 16.6 points per game in 2020-21. Because Lawson went through the NBA draft evaluations the past two seasons, Martin said he doesn’t have the option to come back this time if he decides to go pro.
“He’s being careful,” Martin said.
Martin put no stock in speculation he would be fired or that he was scanning the coaching openings for another job. He said he never was looking to leave, instead using the past month to figure out how to fix what went wrong.
“I don’t get caught up in innuendos. I don’t get caught up in false narratives,” he said. “This month has been frustrating for me because I didn’t do my job, not for anything else.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.