Paul Biancardi, ESPN (http://espn.go.com/blog/ncbrecruiting/on-the-trail/insider/post?id=15042)
When you took over this program in 2012, South Carolina was coming off a year in which it won only two conference games — and also lost its four best players. With such a need for talent, what was your recruiting plan when you took over?
The first thing I had to do was identify the guys [already] in the program. We had to re-recruit those players, and make sure they wanted to be on board with what we were going to be about. We had to get to know them and they had to get to know us. As that happens, you find out who really wants to be on board and part of it moving forward. Next you go look for recruits who fit that mold of wanting to be a part of what we are building. We knew we had a lot of work to do. Our plan was to find guys who understood there will be a few bumps in the road. We are fortunate that we found some great building blocks.
I am one of those guys who believes you can’t be phony in recruiting. If I offer 10 kids in today’s day and age and tell a kid, “You are my guy,” if you do that social media will call you out because everyone knows who you are recruiting. We try to be very genuine and not offer everybody in the world, but the guys we offer, we hang in there with. You can’t be the top team in the country if you are intimidated going into the game — it’s the same way in recruiting. You have to find the guys who have the personality to fit into your program and go after them.
Your first major recruit at South Carolina in terms of recruiting rankings was Sindarius Thornwell (No. 41 in the ESPN 100 for 2013), who has been a big part of your team’s success since you took over. How did signing Thornwell have a positive impact on future recruiting at USC?
Its helped us open doors with better players. But the first thing that helps is when you can get a kid like Sindarius Thornwell to raise his hand and say “I am in.” That immediately perks the ears of other top players and that gave us a chance to recruit PJ Dozier (No. 19 in the ESPN 100 for 2015) another high-profile, talented, unbelievable young man who wants to continue to build what we started. Along with the Chris Silvas and everyone else.
Now Sindarius becomes a mentor, because he has been through the bumps and bruises. He is a grounded young man who is in a good place both physically and mentality and can be a mentor for the younger guys to help them succeed on the court. Sid can help the younger players manage the day-to-day dynamics of being a good player, and to stay in the moment and not let them get down or too full of themselves.
And a guy who has been with you for all four years at South Carolina is your leading scorer Michael Carrera, who was not heavily recruited. Talk about what you saw in Carrera as a recruit back in 2012 … did you see him blossoming into a 14 point per game scorer in the SEC?
I knew about him from my Kansas State days — he played center on his high school team (Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland). Carrera was not all over the summer circuit. Wherever you see kids play or work out the one thing you can never fully gauge is their desire and passion to compete and improve — that’s what’s Michael had. Michael came in a freshman with the ability to rebound and post up some, and he always had the talent to shoot the ball.
He was prepared for college because he played for a great high school coach in Stu Vetter. Michael was grounded and never got ahead of himself or full of himself, because Coach Vetter already took care of those aspects of his game. We had some growing pains together but he figured it out and had a strong offseason, stayed the course and his willingness to succeed has him playing at high clip on a pretty good team. The growth he has shown has showed me that he will have unbelievable success after he leaves here.
It’s well known that you were an assistant under Bob Huggins at both Cincinnati at Kansas State, and you also worked for guys like the late Rudy Keeling and Ron Everhart at Northeastern, as well as Andy Kennedy for one season at Cincinnati. What parts of your recruiting philosophy come from any of those guys?
Rudy Keeling trusted us as assistants, and that trust in me as an assistant back then meant a lot to me — it’s a big part of who I am. I learned to trust my assistants from that experience.
Ron Everhart is so personable, honest, and candid. I remember how he would keep his word with people. Whatever conversation he had with recruits and their families, he never deviated from those talks when a kid would step on campus. That showed me how important it is to keep your word.
[Kennedy] and I were assistants together under Huggs, and I was his assistant for a year at Cincinnati. There would never be a kid out there that AK didn’t know about or couldn’t find out about. He would research every potential prospect and look everywhere for players. When Huggs walked in and said what the program needed, AK knew where to go and find it.
Huggs is a combination of all of the above, but the thing that really stood out to me is once Huggs was convinced on a recruit, he didn’t care whether a kid was a five-star or a two-star, a junior college player or a prep school player, he didn’t care. He trusted his eyes. Once he connected with a prospect he was on a mission to coach that kid, and once he stepped on campus that commitment never went away. He would tell a kid in the recruiting process “I am going to challenge you every single day and I am never going to cheat you of a practice. I expect you to understand that will make you a better player and [a better] man when you go out into the world.” I experienced that message firsthand as a high school coach when he came to recruit my players. So it was a genuine message, because I lived it. And now I say the same things.
The first thing that most casual hoops observers know about you is your intensity. Do you find that your intense reputation is a benefit on the recruiting trail, or is it something you have to combat with certain recruits (or their parents)?
This is year 32 in coaching for me, and I’ve never had a problem fielding a team. My relationship with players comes from sincerity. I never let my guys take shortcuts. I tell every family member that I will never cheat their child. Recruits and families will never have to worry about me taking advantage of them to just win games. I will always do my best to help kids grow as people in our society, and players on the court. My message is that we are all in it together, whether we are playing the game or just living life because of the game.
One of the things some coaches would like to change is the way recruits seemingly commit and decommit at the drop of the hat. What’s your opinion on that?
Starting January 1 of their junior year, if they are ready to make a decision they should be able to sign [a letter of intent]. They can sign at any time after that period. However, I do believe because coaches change jobs so much, if a coach leaves for any reason that prospect should be able to be released. If kids are ready to make a decision they should be able to sign and that will be the end of their recruiting.
What don’t people know about Frank Martin?
I love to laugh. Outside practice and games, I love to tell stories and laugh. I love laughter, I love hearing people laugh and I love to laugh. People who really know me say I am a little teddy bear and there is a lot of truth to that.