Tom Sorensen

Gamecocks didn’t win, but Frank Martin, his players became faces of NCAA tournament

The South Carolina Gamecocks and head coach Frank Martin became the faces of the NCAA tournament, even though they didn’t win the title.
The South Carolina Gamecocks and head coach Frank Martin became the faces of the NCAA tournament, even though they didn’t win the title. AP

NCAA basketball tournaments are a journey. Drama is deep and teams in which you had no rooting interest become yours. We meet a lot of compelling people along the way. One of them is South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin.

Most of us knew Martin as a guy who stomped, screamed and smoldered in front of the Gamecocks’ bench. What else did he offer?

He offered a perspective. Although the country is torn and frayed, Martin called his state, South Carolina, a United State.

On Saturday, after Gonzaga had ended his season, he said this:

“When you get people to travel across the country because they believe in what you do, it’s powerful stuff. … These kids are great role models. There’s a lot of young kids that want to be the next Sindarius Thornton, the next Justin McKie. And I don’t get to coach them anymore. But they’re part of my life forever.”

Basketball has been to South Carolina what football is to Davidson. Ever seen the Gamecocks play basketball in Columbia? It was as if the building, the uniforms and the quality of the basketball were beige.

The Gamecocks had lost five of seven coming into the NCAA tournament, including a first-round SEC tournament loss to Alabama. And then, on March 17, South Carolina opened the tournament with a victory against Marquette. Then it beat Duke, Baylor and Florida. Then it was in its first Final Four.

The Gamecocks got to people, and I mean people who had no interest in them before the tournament began. They play hard, but even that’s not it. Martin was willing to be absolutely honest as he talked through tears to let fans know how special the opportunity was and how special his players are.

When you look at the face of the 2017 men’s tournament, one of the faces you’ll see is his.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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