The coach guiding South Carolina at the Final Four this weekend got turned down for a date seven times by the woman who’s now his wife. He adores Pitbull. He’s the son of Cuban exiles.
He’s also engineered one of the country’s stoutest defenses and brought the Gamecocks program further than they’ve ever gone before.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks face Gonzaga in a national semifinal at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday (CBS, March Madness Live). They’re the Cinderella of the 2017 NCAA tournament, a No. 7 seed that hadn’t made the field since 2004 and hadn’t made so much as an Elite Eight in their history. Now they’re two wins from a national championship.
They’ve also got a coach who’s pretty cool. Here are a few things about Martin on the eve of the biggest game of his coaching career.
Martin’s known as a yeller, but they say he’s much different off the court.
Here’s a standard picture of Martin during a recent game:
"Wow, this guy maybe needs to relax a little bit. I'm just saying he seems pretty intense." - Tom Thibodeau watching Frank Martin coach— David Roth (@david_j_roth) March 26, 2017
Martin is not quiet during games. But that doesn’t seem to tell his whole story.
How cool for South Carolina. Frank Martin seems like such a rough customer on the floor, but he's an absolute teddy bear off of it. Awesome.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 26, 2017
After beating Florida in the Elite Eight, Martin gave an emotional interview on the court, with tears welling up in his eyes. “It’s all these guys,” he said, pointing to his players. Martin looked overwhelmed.
Martin’s mom explained to USA Today a moment she shared with her son on the court at Madison Square Garden after the final buzzer.
“I was out of breath, and then when I hugged my son, it was just ‘Please, God, give me some peace,'” she said. “He told me, he said, ‘Mommy I’m so happy, but please don’t cry.' But he was crying, too. I’ve been crying for a while now.”
Martin is a serious Pitbull fan.
He’s tweeted about Pitbull from his personal account many times. Examples:
@LifeofFitz it doesn't get any better than my boy Pitbull— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) August 24, 2011
"Reach 4 the stars & if u don't grab them at least ur on top of the world"gr8 line @Pitbull concentrate on every step & focus on finish line— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) May 17, 2012
I felt inclined to make a joke about this. I don’t like Pitbull’s that much. He wears funny-looking suits and is an easy dude to make fun of. But Martin’s appreciation of the artist comes from a deeper place. ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan in 2012:
Martin, like Perez [Pitbull’s given last name], is an American-born son of Cuban parents who grew up hard in Miami. Like Perez, who was dismissed for much of his early career, Martin had his share of initial difficulties in the coaching profession. Like Perez, Martin transcended his origins, working himself to one of the highest levels of his profession. Both men’s stories really do represent very similar, timeless versions of the American dream.
Martin’s a first-generation Cuban-American, just like Pitbull. It’d be cool if Pitbull showed up at the Final Four to support Martin.
Martin’s awesome interaction with a kid reporter showed his thoughtfulness.
SI Kids, the young person’s Sports Illustrated, often sends young correspondents to NCAA tournament games. After South Carolina thrashed Baylor in the Sweet 16, Martin fielded a good question from one of them.
SI Kids reporter: “When you coach or teach your team defense, what’s more important: technique or attitude?”
Martin: “First of all, a lot of respect to you. That’s a heck of a question. I’ve been doing this a long time, and that’s the first time anyones’s ever asked me that, thats a heck of a question. Attitude comes first. We gotta have guys that are gonna believe in our mission, that are going to believe in what we do. Once they believe, then we can teach them the technique.”
The reporter, Max, asked a philosophical question about Martin’s defenses. Martin responded kindly. It was a heartwarming moment, and it offered some lessons to reporters many years older than Max.
Martin is one of basketball’s best defensive coaches.
There’s a reason that reporter wanted to know how Martin coaches defense.
In 2011-12, the last season before Martin’s arrival, South Carolina went 10-21 and had the No. 170 defense in Division I by adjusted efficiency. Martin’s made improvements ever since — slow ones at first, leading to a 17-16 record by 2015.
Last year’s team won 25 games, and this year’s has had more success than any Gamecocks team in history.
The key all along has been defense.
- The Cocks were an awful 230th in the country in adjusted efficiency in Martin’s first season.
- Then they rose to 115th in his second year and 21st in his third year.
- Now in his fifth season, they’re No. 2.
Their defense is the biggest reason they’re here and the biggest reason they could win it all.