Campus Corner

Frank Martin returns to region with new challenge

Frank Martin’s influence will stretch from Columbia to Manhattan today.

As South Carolina’s first-year coach, Martin leads the Gamecocks into a game at Missouri that tips off at 6 p.m.

An hour later, his former team, Kansas State, battles Kansas at Bramlage Coliseum, and a piece of Martin will be there.

“There are special guys on that team, and 20 years from now they’ll still be special to me,” Martin said. “I watch them as much as I can, but I have to keep my distance because it wouldn’t be fair to Bruce Weber.”

Martin said the record shows his old Wildcats — he recruited nearly the entire team, and four starters return from last year’s group — have proven to be good at paying attention.

“They’ve done a great job at listening and doing what’s being asked of them,” Martin said. “And Bruce has done an unbelievable job.”

But Martin has his own team to consider, and the challenge is different than when he was elevated from his K-State assistant role to head coach for the 2007-08 season. That team featured Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade.

This South Carolina squad doesn’t include a conference player of the year or likely NBA Draft selections, but it’s a hard-working group that’s playing better than the 13th-place projected order of finish.

The Gamecocks are 11-6 overall and 1-3 in SEC play. They dropped their first two games by a combined five points, broke a 14-game losing streak by winning at LSU in overtime, and are coming off a narrow loss to Vanderbilt.

“We’re four possessions away from being 4-0, that’s how fine a line we’re walking,” Martin said.

Martin heads to a familiar place today, Mizzou Arena. Kansas State lost its first four games under Martin in Columbia, but handed the Tigers their only home loss last season. The Wildcats were the only Big 12 team to sweep Mizzou and gave them two of their five losses.

This team may require more patience than his first Wildcats teams, but they’re getting a full dose of Martin’s personality. In his first game this season, Martin spiked a water bottle and stared down players. And as it was so often in Manhattan, message received. The Gamecocks overcame a 17-point second-half deficit and won.