Frank Martin isn’t the first South Carolina basketball coach to turn a sub-.500 program into a winner. Yes, before there was Martin, there was Dave Odom, who coached the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and led them to back-to-back NIT championships in 2005 and 2006.
Odom, 74, coached South Carolina from 2001-08, and he’ll be the first to tell you: the challenges of coaching there are many.
“Well, first of all, the great programs in the country . . . they control probably within 300 or 400 miles of their campus from a recruiting standpoint,” Odom said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “That has been really, really hard in the state of South Carolina because they’re kind of isolated by themselves in the SEC. They’re the furthest north and east of all the schools, and the state itself, inherently, does not put out a lot of good basketball players. This is a particularly good run of them.”
And Martin didn’t let them get away.
“To Frank Martin’s credit, he has gotten Sindarius Thornwell from Lancaster, South Carolina,” Odom said. “You got the McKie kid (Justin McKie) from Columbia. You got Terry Dozier’s kid (PJ Dozier) right there in Columbia. So (Martin has) gotten some really good local talent, so that’s the first thing. It’s very cyclic. Talent runs very cyclic, particularly in that state.”
The other main problem for recruiting in South Carolina? Academics.
“There’s not that many kids who are academically qualified to go on,” Odom said. “You find somebody that you really feel can make your program turn a little bit, and you find out (they’re not qualified academically or) they grew up being a Tar Heel fan.”
Indeed, there are plenty of North Carolina fans – and Clemson fans and Tennessee fans and Georgia fans – living in South Carolina.
That’s tough to overcome.
“And the other thing is it sits right between ACC influence on the north and SEC influence on the south,” Odom said. “It’s just hard. If you go back, North Carolina has been very good at coming into the state. Brice Johnson out of Orangeburg, just graduated a year ago, and Raymond Felton from up in Latta – those are just two examples. I think recruiting has been the biggest problem because you’ve always got to go someplace else to get it. But in terms of the facilities and the resources and the finances and the money and support – the fans are great. . . . It makes it all the more impressive what Frank Martin has done.”
Martin, 51, has led the Gamecocks to their first Final Four in school history, this after going 70-63 (.526) in his first four seasons in Columbia. No. 7 South Carolina (26-10) will face No. 1 Gonzaga (36-1) this Saturday in Glendale at 6:09 p.m. ET, with the winner to face either No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) or No. 3 Oregon (33-5) in the national championship Monday.