Frank Martin can see the change in perception of South Carolina basketball in his early interactions with recruits.
It used to be that high schools prospects would take calls only because of his name, the Gamecocks coach said on the set of SEC Now on Wednesday. That formerly was the end of the interaction, which now has a longer life and a new starting place.
“Now, they’re taking the phone call because of South Carolina,” Martin said. “That’s the biggest difference. Now, they’re paying attention to our program. You can get into deeper conversations. You can actually build a relationship and figure out a way to get some pretty good players.”
The Gamecocks were SEC cellar dwellers in Martin’s first three years at South Carolina. They finished tied for 12th in 2012-13 and dropped to 13th a year later. But after an 11th-place finish in 2014-15, the Gamecocks took a major step forward last season.
USC recorded the best start in school history, winning its first 15 games. It finished tied for third in the SEC and ended the season with a 25-8 record, good for the program’s first postseason appearance since 2009.
But it fell short of making the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2004, a feeling that still sticks with Martin.
“It was seven months ago and I still think we were in that thing,” he said. “When you have older guys on your team, you feel bad for your seniors. They set a school record for wins and you finish third in your league and you can’t get into the NCAA Tournament.
“Once you remove from the pain and the pain exists because you put in the work to go from being the worst team in the league to one of the better teams in the league, then you start getting proud. Proud of the work you put in. Proud of who you are. Proud of what you accomplished. Whether we got in the tournament or not, that does not take away from the growth and the experiences those kids helped us all live as we were one together.”
The Gamecocks were picked to finish eighth this season by the media.