Martin, 46, called it a whirlwind courtship with South Carolina that really took off this weekend while the coach was in New York helping CBS Sports with its coverage of the NCAA tournament. Martin joked that he had basketball studio analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony urging him to take the job before he left.
“That’s how much respect people have for South Carolina basketball,” Martin said.
Martin was 117-54 in five years with the Wildcats. They reached the NCAA regional finals in 2010 and lost to Syracuse in the third round this season.
Martin thanked everyone at Kansas State and discounted any rift with Wildcat athletic director John Currie for the decision to leave. Martin was upset that the school suspended forward Jamar Samuels for the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse.
However, “that administration has been phenomenal. I can’t be more thankful for how that administration treated us. They gave us what we needed,” Martin said.
Kansas coach Bill Self, Martin’s Big 12 Conference rival, said the coach would be missed.
“Our league will miss him. I’m sure people in Manhattan (Kan.) will, too,” Self said. “He was nothing but good things for our basketball league.”
Now, the SEC has another outsized personality to matchup with league heavyweights like Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Martin said he got a text from his friend, Alabama coach Anthony Grant, that read, “Frank, our league just got better.”
Martin is the son of Cuban immigrants who coached high school basketball in Miami for 15 years and was an assistant at Northeastern for four seasons before Bob Huggins brought him on to his staff at Cincinnati. Martin credits Huggins with jump starting his career, saying the current coach at West Virginia helped him get into college coaching.
Martin knew about South Carolina’s program from following former Gamecocks star Devan Downey, who spent his freshman year at Cincinnati when Martin was assistant to then Bearcats coach Huggins. Martin remembered watching highlights of Downey and his teammates celebrating their stunning 68-62 victory over then No. 1 Kentucky in 2010.
Things slumped for South Carolina under Horn since that high point. The Gamecocks lost 24 of their last 27 SEC games. Horn finished his career at South Carolina 23-45 in league games and 60-63 overall with thee losing seasons in a row. Attendance fell drastically this season with opponents like Ohio State and Kentucky outdrawing the Gamecocks in games played here this winter.
Martin praised Horn for running a clean program and improving the team’s once poor academic showing. Horn did a lot of good for this basketball team, except for winning.
“It’s my duty to try and complete that part,” he said.
Martin promised his team’s tough-nosed style and relentless work ethic would fill the arena.
“We will put 18-thousand in this place every game,” he said.