It’s not about playing basketball in a football stadium, on the biggest stage in the final weekend of the sport’s season. Martin thinks of pressure as his days as a math teacher, standing in front of a classroom of 35 students with 27 desks and 18 textbooks with 180 days to educate all the kids in it.
“Maybe I’m too dumb to understand what pressure is in sports,” Martin said. “I get it. We’re playing a real good team. We’re playing on the biggest stage of them all. I understand all that.
“But we’ve got to worry about ourselves. And we’ve got to worry about keeping our ears to the right voices. We have to focus on all of us doing our jobs.”
Martin, who still thinks of his role as that of an educator, is doing his best to keep South Carolina focused on that as it prepares to face Gonzaga at 6:09 p.m. ET Saturday in the Final Four.
The Gamecocks had their first practice at University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Phoenix on Thursday. Martin called it “unbelievable,” adding “it’s a monster out there.” It’s a different experience for the Gamecocks — and most teams on this stage — to play on a raised court in a football stadium, changing the shooting backdrop and depth in the process.
The Gamecocks said it was an adjustment, but it only took a little bit of practice to get used to the difference of shooting in a football stadium on a major stage.
After the practice, Martin delivered a message to his team about focusing on what South Carolina must do to win. It remained consistent with what he preached during the Gamecocks’ run to the Final Four, focusing on the Gamecocks instead of what an opponent or an opposing player does.
And, more importantly, the Gamecocks continue to aim to play without pressure as they have done through the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
“I said, ‘Don’t be the guy that doesn’t do their job to prevent us from having an opportunity of staying here until Monday night. Focus in on doing your job. And at the end of the day our job is not good enough, nothing to be ashamed of,’ ” Martin said. “But we’re not playing the arena. We’re not playing the tournament. We’re not playing the Final Four. We’re playing Gonzaga. So we have to focus in on doing what we have to do to figure out a way to win that game.”
The winner of Friday’s South Carolina-Gonzaga game faces either Oregon or North Carolina on Monday for the 2017 NCAA Tournament championship.