South Carolina is a basketball school now? Maybe not, but the Gamecocks shocked the world in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks earned a spot in the Final Four for the first time in program history, and coach Frank Martin is the national media darling.
Building a competitive basketball program doesn’t necessarily follow a set model, but other teams can learn from South Carolina. When the Gamecocks hired Martin, they did not come with much historical success or national cache. Martin used a couple of keys to beat the established system:
- Strong identity: The Gamecocks run an aggressive defensive system predicated on length and athleticism, which makes recruiting players for the system more efficient.
- Recruiting grounds: Football and basketball recruiting are different. It’s not necessarily about total number of recruits, but more about opportunity to lock down top guys from your area.
- Leadership: Martin has been able to maintain a relationship with athletic administration as his program went through a rebuilding process. Winning over fans and administrators is a must for any rebuilding project.
Getting all those factors in place is a Herculean effort. Even with everything working right, it took a massive stroke of luck for South Carolina to even make the tourney. A run was still surprising, even for those watching all year long.
However, these three SEC basketball schools have the best chance to replicate the success.
If there is one team invested in a quick rebuild, it’s the Missouri Tigers. After seeing their football and basketball programs fall apart in recent years, the Tigers went all-in on new coach Cuonzo Martin. He immediately delivered who many consider the No. 1 recruit in the nation: forward Michael Porter Jr. Several more top recruits could soon be on the way.
Martin fits two of these three criteria especially well. Less than two weeks after being named coach, he already has the entire fan base on his side. Missouri should also be able to lock down St. Louis. In recent years, that metropolitan area produced Jayson Tatum, Ben McLemore and Bradley Beal. Keeping some of those talented players home will drastically expedite the process.
The one knock against Martin is that he is known as more of a recruiter than basketball coach at this point. Identifying a coaching identity will be key. However, with the talent Martin should bring in, it will give him immediate leeway.
Surprisingly, 34-year-old Will Wade never played college basketball. Instead, he earned his way into a head coaching position from being a student manager and grad assistant at Clemson, his alma mater. He was an assistant for Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Shaka Smart at VCU before getting his first head coaching job at 30.
Simply put, Wade has the coaching chops and personality to win people over. He even told Ed Orgeron that he thinks they could be the two highest-energy coaches in the country. It remains to be seen whether he will bring the guard-centric “havoc” defense from VCU, but it would instantly give the Tigers a new identity.
Louisiana certainly has the talent. The state produced seven Power 5 basketball players in 2016 alone. LSU signed the fifth and eighth highest-rated players in the state that year. Compete for the better players, and LSU might just have something here. The resources are there — it’s up to Wade to capitalize.
Alabama Crimson Tide
While it might not have been in college basketball, Avery Johnson is one of the most accomplished coaches in the conference. Johnson led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 Western Conference title and was NBA coach of the year. He took over at Alabama at 2015.
Playing for a former NBA coach will be appealing for hoops prospects. Like his NBA teams, Johnson’s Alabama system starts on defense. The Crimson Tide boasted the No. 10 adjusted defense in the nation. Johnson would like to build on an NBA pick-and-roll offense but needs an elite point guard to do it.
It appears that Johnson found him. Collin Sexton is the first 5-star player ‘Bama has recruited since 2012. Ranked No. 7 in the nation, he’s the highest-rated player to come to Alabama in the 247Sports composite database. With two more top-100 players coming to campus, the Crimson Tide boast the No. 4 class in the nation.
After making the NIT in 2017, Alabama is further along than either LSU or Mizzou.