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March 23, 2017
New York, New York
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from coach.
FRANK MARTIN: First, the obvious thing, unbelievably excited for the opportunity to be a part of the Sweet 16 and once realized that we're going to play in this, to know that we're coming to New York City where anyone that knows anything about the history of South Carolina basketball understands the unbelievable connection to this city with Bobby Cremins and John Roche and just go on and on and on. We go on, George Felton, just go on forever.
The incredible players from this area that have represented the Gamecocks.
And then lastly, on a personal note, my -- half my family lives here, my wife is from here, to be able to perform and bring our team in front of so many people that care so much about us.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please?
Q. You recruited a guy, Chris Silva from right across the river. What's Chris' development been like since you got him and how big of an impact has he been in getting you here?
FRANK MARTIN: He's been great -- I said this the other day -- I'm harder on Chris than probably anyone on our team, because I think his room for growth is so great; that's Number one.
Number two, and this is where he is such an awesome kid to coach. We needed him to be a senior even though he's a sophomore that's only played ball for less than four years. And he's been willing to accept that responsibility. He took on that challenge and he, you know, it's no secret, all you got to do is watch our season and games that he got in foul trouble and didn't play well, we struggled to score at the rim. And in games that he has not, we have done a pretty good job of protecting the rim and scoring at the rim. He's a big, big part of what we do. He's an unbelievable kid. I think he's going to be an unbelievable player as he continues to get better. But he's fun to coach.
Everyone on our team's fun to coach. And I don't -- go back and listen to all my press conferences over the last 10 years, I don't say that all the time. And this whole team, they're great to be around and Chris is a big reason for that. He allows me to coach him, he allows me to challenge him to be great and all the other guys respond to that and appreciate and respect him for it.
Q. Scott Drew said that after you left the Big-12, you guys stayed in touch and that relationship continued. Can you tell me kind of how that developed over the years and what that means to you?
FRANK MARTIN: When I got hired at Kansas State, I was kind of the new kid; it was my first year as a head coach. And Scott was in the process of establishing his Baylor program. And he was kind of the new guy. He hired a guy named Tim Maloney, who is a native New Yorker. Tim and I are dear friends; he's one of the most incredible human beings that I've ever met and he's a heck of a basketball coach. And Scott hired Tim. And through Tim, he and I started to develop a friendship. Tim and I, we speak on a regular basis and I think the world of him. He got me and Scott to become friends because of his passion for both of us. And that's why our friendship continues. I'm extremely proud of how Scott has been able to maintain Baylor into a national winner in such a short period of time.
Every year everyone thinks, okay, Baylor is taking a back seat this year. They lost so and so and there's another guy that jumps in there and all of a sudden he becomes their guy and that's what it's all about. But we have maintained friendships, we stay in touch. When I got at South Carolina, nobody would schedule us. I'm talking about other name schools. Scott said "Lets do this." I don't like playing friends, but he said "Let's do this," because he knew he would have a lot more to lose if they lost to South Carolina than we would. But he wasn't scared of giving us the opportunity. So, we played Thornwell's freshman year at Baylor and his sophomore year at home. And we continue to speak and we watch each other's teams. And I know he's proud of the way we have built our program and I know I'm extremely proud of the way he continues to win at a national level.
Q. I don't know that there's necessarily one blueprint toward climbing the coaching ladder. Yours is probably a little more unconventional than many or most. Do you find that other coaches reach out to you and seek inspiration by the fact that maybe just because they have been coaching high school for 10 years, there's still a possibility down the road that they can become a successful coach? And do you find that to be a satisfying part of your journey that you can be representative of a guy who grinds away until he gets to a spot like you're in now?
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, one of the funny deals when I first got hired at K State 10 years ago is, most members of the media that knew nothing about me, which I understood, it's not like I was a name that anyone outside of basketball, high school basketball, and the guys that recruited my players knew, referred to me as like he's going to fail because he's nothing but a high school coach. That was the word that was used and I use to sit there and laugh. I would say, wow. And at the end of the year they said "Why would you always laugh when this was asked?" I said because guys thought that you were trying to like find a reason why I was going to fail and what you didn't understand is you were paying me the ultimate compliment that anyone could be paid, which is you were calling me an educator. And that's who I am, I take pride. I have unbelievable conversations with high school coaches, young coaches, young people in college basketball, to let them know and -- that they can move forward in this business as long as they do things the right way. Everyone's going to get a job. If you handle things the right way, then you'll keep your job; that's what I try to teach my players. My job -- and I tell them when I go in their homes -- my job is not to help you get a job one day. You're going to get a job, whether it pays you 20 grand or it pays you 120 grand. Who knows. The thing is, can you take that 20 thousand dollar job and make it a 120 thousand dollar job? Can you take a 120 thousand dollar job and make it a 1.2 job? That's my job in life is to help people move forward. I take a lot of pride in trying to do my job best I can, so others that have taken the path I've taken to be given the platform that I'm given right now, can stay with it and continue to do their job, so one day they can get an opportunity.
Q. You've been saying the last couple of years, that the SEC is undervalued. How much validation is it this season to see three teams in the Sweet 16 and both you and Florida being here?
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, I don't know what happened in the SEC seven years ago, I wasn't a part of it. Obviously, I became a part of it five years ago. I see it every day. It's hard. It's a hard league. And I don't sit around and try to say that we're better than the next league, I've been in other leagues, I know how hard those leagues are. And I have unbelievable respect.
But it bothers me when our league is referred to in a way different than those leagues. We don't take a back seat to any of those leagues. We, probably the next question is, well what do you mean? Well, like if us, or even Kentucky, which is the most nationally relevant program in our conference, loses a league game, oh, they stink. They're no good because they lost a league game. I've been answering to that the whole last three weeks of the season. Well, your team is just, it's lost its fight, it's not very good, it doesn't belong. Why, because we lost at Vanderbilt? Why, because we lost at Florida? Why, because we lost at Ole Miss, who won 22 games? It's part of league basketball. Especially in a league like the SEC. It's hard.
But let's look at the coaches. Those coaches have won championships in every league they have been in. Every one. Whether it's Rick Barnes, Avery Johnson, Ben Howland, and I'm talking just the new ones, I'm not talking about the other ones. This league is hard. They recruit at a high level; they coach their players to play at a high level. I think Commissioner Sankey's done an unbelievable job and the people that he's surrounded himself with, that it's helping us do a better job of promoting basketball within our own communities, our own pockets, where we're at.
And now the three programs that are in the Sweet 16, I'm proud of my co-workers in the SEC. We have done what you have to do to earn credibility. And the Big-12 challenge, I think we went 5-5. We weren't in it, but I think it was 5-5. And it was at the end of the year, so I think it was a different twist than maybe 5-5 in November. And then obviously, making runs here in the NCAA Tournament always helps.
Q. Wisconsin has certainly developed a reputation over the years as being the epitome of the blue collar-type team. Could you talk a little bit about maybe your team and perhaps, even Florida in that same vernacular, even though they don't maybe have the same national reputation in that regard.
FRANK MARTIN: At Wisconsin, it has sent my team packing twice in the NCAA Tournament, so I'm very familiar with their blue collar ways.
I think Wisconsin gets a lot of that well-deserved recognition because of their success at this time of year. I just said this earlier, Eddie Fogler, who is become a dear friend of mine, Eddie's as good a coach as I've ever been around. Eddie won a SEC championship at South Carolina. Got upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. No one ever validated how great that team was because of that.
So why am I bringing that up? You can be undefeated, going into the NCAA Tournament. If you don't make a run in this tournament, all your accomplishments kind of go out the window. Or you can be a team that lost 12 games, and you make a run in the this tournament and everyone forgets all your sins before you got in the tournament. So, Wisconsin's earned that right.
Florida, under Billy, had earned that right because of their successes. You have a coaching change. Mike's got those kids playing through his eyes now. And they have made a run. So now they're earning that credibility. And then hopefully our guys get rewarded with the same kind of conversation because that's the way we approach our jobs every single day at South Carolina.
Q. Talked about Chris earlier, how he hasn't been playing this game very long. What do you remember about him in high school? He was very raw. And how far has his game progressed since he's gotten to South Carolina?
FRANK MARTIN: His haircut and not agreeing with officials. No. Never backed down from the competitiveness of the game. Freak athleticism. And a kid that, I believe when you recruit, I believe in really paying attention to his interactions with those that are helping him every day. And that doesn't mean being nice to him. How important those people were in his life. And you're talking about a kid who left his family behind to have a chance to move forward in life so he can then in turn help his family back home in Gabon. All those are very important to me. Those are the kind of people I like being around. I like people that want to grow. I like people that want to help others. I like people that sacrifice, and that's what he's about. And that's what I learned. Outside of the nonsense part, which is the basketball talent, it was all those other things. Because I think that's a guy that we could help continue to build our program with. And that's what he's about.
Q. We have been hearing from a lot of fans who are thrilled about this program being in the national spotlight. But they're worried about them getting distracted by all of the hype. They want to know what you're doing to keep the guys focused?
FRANK MARTIN: I'm making all those faces that people like having fun with. I've been real mad and mean with those guys. At the end of the day, it's -- I fight this battle with my own children at home. And it's the age of social media. I tell my staff this all the time, we need to speak to our guys about everything, every single day. Because if we don't, someone else is. And if they end up listening to someone else because we didn't speak to them, shame on us. And so we have tried real hard for the last whatever it's been, 72 hours, to spend a lot of time with our guys. And I said this to them before we stepped foot into this tournament, I said, guys, you guys, the only reason we got put on the board is because you guys listened to me. I don't say this in arrogant way, I'm the only person in this room that he's ever been in this tournament. Don't stop listening to me now. And they didn't. And that's why we had success last weekend and I trust those guys, so that's what I'm banking that they're doing this week, is continuing to listen to us. That doesn't guarantee us success, but at least we know we feel good about our guys, that we're going to go out tomorrow and play as best we can. We got to play the best game we played all year or we're not going to win.
Q. Last weekend Coach K said Sindarius is one of the most, the best, like, player that people weren't talking about. And I'm wondering if you can kind of just reflect on the impact he's had on the program, if when he got here, you thought he could be a huge part in elevating the program to where it is right now in the spotlight?
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, Sin was a highly recruited high school kid. He went through something going into senior in high school that told me a lot about him. It's what convinced me that he was the one. He had a chance to go to Oak Hill Academy. 99 percent of the kids that are high-profile kids in the country right now have a chance to go to Oak Hill Academy, they jump. They don't even wait for you to finish the sentence, they go.
They had to force him to go. Because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family. And I didn't say he was the one because I said okay, this kid wants to stay in the state. No. He was not about himself. The easy thing to have done there, is go there so Sindarius Thornwell can move forward. Instead he was worried about his high school team, his high school coach, his family, his community. And they had to -- his uncle, "Big Country", Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, "You're going to school here. This is for your own good."
And it's who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, "I want to do this with you," when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods and he wanted to help us build. He wanted, he wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family's name on the back of his jersey. And that's powerful. When you have a young man that wants to take on that moment, that responsibility, and he's done it. He never ran away when we didn't win games. His sophomore year, where I'm just telling you, if he was my child, where I kind of had to sign off, I would not have allowed him to play. He wouldn't even take a play off in practice because the tendonitis in his knees were so bad. And I threatened to suspend him that year to force him not to play; he wouldn't let me. And that's the kind of courage that he has.
And we didn't have seniors to help him learn how to figure things out. For him to have -- he's had an unbelievable year. And then to be able to have the same performance that he's had all year on the big stage last weekend, I'm real happy -- I'm proud of him regardless of whether he plays well or not. I'm really happy for him, because he's always given of himself for everyone else. I'm happy he's getting the recognition he deserves.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach. We'll take questions for the student-athletes at this time.
Q. This is all new to the program, getting this far to the Sweet 16. So what is this all like getting this far, especially after last year when you won 25 games and didn't get into the tournament.
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: It means a lot, man. Just for us, for our first time and our last time playing at the university, just means a lot because when we came in, we came in and our ultimate goal was to make it to the tournament. And we didn't get that chance our first three years and for us to get this opportunity our last year heading out is a blessing for us. And it's good for the basketball program also for us to still be playing and to make it to the tournament and making a run, it's huge for the whole, for everybody.
DUANE NOTICE: I think it's just a very crucial thing for us all, especially us seniors. We just feel good about the situation and where we're kind of leaving the program and guiding it towards who we're leaving it off to. And like Sin said, when we came here, three, four years ago, coach didn't promise us that we would be in the Sweet 16, but he promised that if we believed in him, and he believed in us, that he would provide us with an opportunity to kind of make our dreams come true. And it's kind of coming into fruition right now.
Q. Sin, Duane, Frank spoke last week about how he leaned on you two plus Justin to kind of get the program to this point. What were the roughest moments during that stretch where maybe you guys thought that maybe there was a better decision to be made and maybe you guys were maybe thinking about playing somewhere else?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Freshman year, sophomore year, those two years was the roughest moments for us. Freshman year, we were just so young. And then we had a lot of games where we could have won, but we just were so young and didn't hardly finish games. And so we lost a lot of games from like the last four minutes of the game.
And then sophomore year, we just went through so much with guys getting hurt, from knee injuries, it was time where we were only playing with like seven or eight players for the rest of the season. And just losing was just like not fun for us. Coming in, we were always winners in high school. And just coming in and we all had our thoughts where like, man, is it really worth it? We didn't see it happening at that point. But then we stuck with it and kept working.
And then that junior year is when we finally started to see the light, and I thought that maybe we got a chance. After junior year our hearts were crushed, but we didn't settle.
And then senior year, coming in this year, that's when we came in with unfinished business, and we were just determined to give it our all. And then when the preseason rankings in the conference came out, and everybody had us picked 8th, 9th, at the bottom half of the conference, it just even motivated us even more just to show everybody that we deserved to be up there with the best in our conference. Now, they give us an opportunity to play in the tournament, and we are here to show people that we can compete with the best in the country.
DUANE NOTICE: It could have been easy for us to kind of falter, I think give in. But the kind of group of guys we had, we just ride together our freshman and sophomore year, and we just decided that we're going to stick through it. We had all had our moments where we thought about we should probably reconsider and stuff like that because we were losing a lot. And like Sin said, we came from a winning culture in our respective areas, but I think that we did a good job of just kind of talking it out and making sure that we saw the vision and committed to it.
And once we got committed and added other players along the way, the journey became sweeter, and we just were able to get through the adversity.
Q. One, how do you guys keep from getting too caught up in the hype of having made the Sweet 16 coming here to Madison Square Garden? And secondly, from what you see inside the program and what's coming after you, is this going to be a one-year wonder for South Carolina, or do you feel it's something they can sustain?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: We just stay, like coach said, before the tournament happened, and a funny thing happened, coach told us, just to continue to listen to him. And we have listened to him all season and don't stop now. We have won the first two games and now we're in the Sweet 16. And we're going to continue listening to coach and we're going to let coach lead us and we're going to follow him into whatever. And hopefully it just keeps leading us to the right direction and to winning.
I think that the program's headed the right direction. Our defense is just crazy, like, the guys that coach is bringing in the guys that's here now, they're committed and they're going to be committed to what coach wants. Once you got guys that's committed to the coach and what he wants, that's when you see things start to turn and that's when you see winning start happening and stuff like that. I think that the program is headed in the right direction. I don't think this is a one-hit wonder; I think that we'll be back in the tournament in years to come in the future.
Q. Coach was talking about your decision to commit to South Carolina and just the element of playing for a team and playing for your family and what you have wanted when you committed here and being part of building a program. Can you just reflect on that a little bit. And also this idea that it seems to kind of -- the chip on the shoulder seems to motivate you, that people may have overlooked you over your college career and now in the spotlight you're having these monster games and people are finally noticing.
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Yeah, I just have been born and raised in South Carolina and from South Carolina. Me and PJ, we both, I feel like we both played for the same reasons, for our family, for our state, Justin also. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program and just we all been playing good this season. For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don't feel like we get the recognition that we deserve all season. There was a time when we were No. 1 in the conference, and I don't think anybody knew about it. But we all been playing great this season and we're just trying to keep it going.
Q. Is it kind of weird that as seniors your first road trip was at Baylor. Now you get to play them again as seniors. Have you thought about that? And just what has changed with Baylor's program from four years ago to this game?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: What's changed? I don't know, because they was good my freshman year with Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and they was good then. And they're good now. Just, they just got guys that's committed to winning and they just have a winning program. And the way their bigs attack the rim right now and rebounding, and the way they attack at that paint and the way the guys make shots right now is just, they're a good team. We're going to have a tough matchup tomorrow.
DUANE NOTICE: Like Sin said, I don't think that much has really changed. They kind of got the same personnel and they do a good job of playing within that zone. I think that Baylor's always been known to have a good, a great zone, defensively. So I think that the coach is going to give us the correct game plan so that we can obtain the win. I think our freshman year we were flustered playing on the road against them, but our sophomore year we kind of road together and were able it get that win. But all that's in the past right now. We just got to focus on -- oh, we lost by one. We didn't win. Never mind. Never mind.
Q. PJ, when you were here in December, obviously excitement of playing in The Garden was something you could get through and experience. Is that valuable to have that out of your system now when you come back here and play in this level on the Sweet 16?
PJ DOZIER: Oh, yeah. Definitely I think it's good for us that we have played in this arena before. But I think that it works in our favor. But first game, second game, third game, I feel like you're always going to be kind of nervous playing here, just due to the history of basketball in this arena. But I think it's definitely good for us that we had the opportunity earlier in the year to play here.
Q. How great is it to know that not only the women's program is doing well, but you all, the men's program for University of South Carolina, is holding up your end of the bargain. How great is that for both of the teams to be proceeding this time of the year?
DUANE NOTICE: I think it's really cool experience personally, especially because around this time every year the past few years, we have been at home watching the girls play cheering them on. So the fact that we're still able to play, it's good for our student body, it's good for our school and the whole institution. It's very cool that we can cheer each other one and support each other and hopefully do something that this school hasn't done before.
PJ DOZIER: Just agree with Duane. It's a blessing to have both programs in the Sweet 16, playing this late in the year, it's just great for our program overall. Like Duane said, we have been cheering them on this time of the year for the past couple years, and making it, we don't want to take any recognition away from them, we're excited to be here, we're excited that they're in the position they're in.
Q. Speaking of the women, just curious if any of you have experienced them talking smack to you about hey guys, let's get going, let's get to the NCAA Tournament. Any kind of a relationship in that respect?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: No, no, we just support each other. When they're playing, we're tuned in and sending them snap chats during the game or whatever and stuff like that and it's been messed up. And there's been times when we're playing the game and they're sending like live text messages on the game, like they almost broadcasting the game, just everything. We just support each other.
DUANE NOTICE: Same thing he said.
THE MODERATOR: PJ anything to add?
PJ DOZIER: No, not really.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, guys.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports