COLUMBIA, S.C. – Despite arriving as the head coach of the University of South Carolina's basketball team only a few months ago, the city honored Frank Martin with his own day.
"I'm embarrassed," said the Cuban-America Martin. "I'm new to this community. We haven't done anything yet. But I'm honored, and now we've got to utilize it to do whatever I can just to impact this community in a positive way."
That will start in earnest next fall when Martin takes to the sidelines at Colonial Life Arena in his first season as Gamecocks coach. Martin left Kansas State in March, bringing his no-nonsense style and solid basketball knowledge to revive a last-place South Carolina program.
Martin has barely taken a break since accepting a six-year contract at roughly $2 million a year three months ago. He had to fill out a roster depleted with the transfers of two of the Gamecocks' most promising players after Damontre Harris went to Florida, and Anthony Gill to Virginia. Martin has had to integrate the desires of the team's point guard, Bruce Ellington, to again play football and basketball next school year. He has met with coaches and contacts throughout the region to spread the message that things will be different at South Carolina.
I'm new to this community. We haven't done anything yet. But I'm honored, and now we've got to utilize it to do whatever I can just to impact this community in a positive way.
- Frank Martin, University of South Carolina basketball coach
"The message has been well received out there," Martin said. "The feedback we've been getting has been great."
Things have also gone well with those returnees, including Ellington. Martin said his point guard probably spends more time than anyone in the basketball offices and has kept himself a major part of the team.
That is good for Martin because, right now, the Gamecocks have few other scoring options. Leading scorer Malik Cooke was a senior, and transfers Gill and Harris were the team's third- and fourth-leading scorers who combined for almost 15 points a game.
The returnees, though, have listened and bought in to what Martin and his staff are preaching.
"The way they go about their business makes me believe that they believe," the coach said.
Changing attitudes might be a difficult task. The Gamecocks were 2-14 in the SEC last year and have lost 26 of their past 30 games with league opponents.
Martin said he has six new players for the roster set to arrive this summer, although he is not yet ready to announce them.
"Everybody likes to talk about the new guys," Martin told the crowd at the city's Community Relations Council luncheon. "Let me tell you, all those guys were at high school proms. None of them know anything about college yet."
That hasn't stopped the region's growing love affair with the plain-spoken, at times emotional coach. The city's Chamber of Commerce held a welcome breakfast in Martin's honor on Wednesday before Mayor Steve Benjamin proclaimed it "Frank Martin Day."
Martin later served as keynote speaker for the Community Relations Council, signing autographs, shaking hands and getting to know the people he expects will fill the seats at his 18,000-seat home arena once he gets things rolling.
Martin shared his story of growing up the child of Cuban immigrants without a father to guide him. Martin said that too often the lack of a parent is used to excuse unacceptable behavior. He said he will hold his players to high standards and make sure South Carolina fans can be proud to root for the Gamecocks.
Martin received a standing ovation from the 300 or so in attendance.
"It's awesome," he said. "This reaffirms what people I trust told me before I took this job."
Martin said the support he has seen is why Steve Spurrier led the football team to the SEC title game in 2010, why Dawn Staley's team reached the round of 16 in the women's NCAA tournament, and why Ray Tanner's club won College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011.
Martin hopes he will soon deserve his accolades at South Carolina.
"Right now where we're at, we haven't lost any games. We haven't dealt with adversity yet," he said. "But that's OK."