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March 26, 2017

Frank Martin

Maik Kotsar

PJ Dozier

Sindarius Thornwell

New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student-athletes.

FRANK MARTIN: Just unbelievably, just a surreal moment. You focus in on chasing young kids around, hoping that they grow up and believe and you end up with guys like these guys right next to me and their teammates that have the courage to come back every day and do more. And just -- I'm just out of words. Out of words. Just extremely proud of these guys right next to me.

THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions for student-athletes, first.

Q. As local guys, South Carolina guys, and watching this program growing up, did you ever think a day like this would be possible and is that why you guys signed to come to the Gamecocks?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Signing and growing up in South Carolina, all we asked for was a chance to make it. We didn't ask for -- coach ain't guaranteed us anything, but to come here and just work hard and give ourselves a chance. All we wanted was to make it. All we wanted was a bid in the tournament, to see our name on the board. And when we got our name on the board the rest, we'll take, the rest takes care of itself. All we wanted was a chance.

PJ DOZIER: It's a blessing. It's a blessing. Personally, I didn't know where this program could go, but I know that when Frank Martin stepped foot on campus, you just got this vibe that the ball was rolling. And the progress, like you could see it every year, every year, every day that we go to each practice, they got better, each year they got better, statistically it showed. Just the sense that coach didn't promise us anything, but he did promise us that if we had faith in him and we listened to what he had to say, and we did what he had to say, we did what he said to do, that we would be successful here and it shows.

MAIK KOTSAR: Yeah, coming in here, I was hoping that this would happen, but did I think that? Definitely not. Just feels amazing.

Q. For the three of you, expanding on that, what has coach told you about and taught you over these past two weeks, throughout the tournament, heading to your first Final Four?
MAIK KOTSAR: I would say the main thing that Frank has taught us is to -- or throughout the season, is to put trust into one another, to trust Frank, to trust our teammates, both on and off the court.

PJ DOZIER: Yeah, the coach's mindset never change. The players mindset never changed throughout the whole season. We just, coach harps on being an every day guy. Every day giving it a 110 percent. Coming in every day to work.

SINDARIUS THORNWELL: These last two weeks we, when we got our name in, he said we been listening to him all season and don't stop now because we got our name on the board. So when he said that, we all locked in and didn't listen to any outsiders, didn't listen to anybody else but coach. We trusted in him in everything. We had this thing where don't let go of the rope, no matter what happens, no matter the outcome of anything, don't let go of that rope.

Q. Sindarius, this is for you, we talked a lot about you being the most underrated Player of the Year from the major conferences. Florida's up 55-53 and I think you scored the next eight points for South Carolina, then you assisted on a basket, then you made a steal. Was there something inside of you that just said, you've always wanted this chance, this is my chance?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: No, just, I just made plays, I was just in a situation where I just made plays. I feel like our team is the most underrated team in the country. Outside of me. But our team's the most underrated team as a whole. But no, I just felt like plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and was in a situation where I was able to make the plays.

Q. You guys talked about trust. There was a particular play that stood out to me. Sindarius, you passed the ball to Kotsar, guys put you up 69-65. Just talk about that trust, that to trust Kotsar in that moment and how that play developed and PJ even seeing that play, like was that like kind of a microcosm of trust this year or describe that play?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: It's crazy because we were talking about that back there. Is that the one in transition and then I turned around and hooped it to him?

Q. Yeah.
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: When he caught it everybody's like bring it on, bring it and when he shot it it was like, yes. We knew, I knew he was ready to play when, like, the second possession of the game he posted up and he, like, called my name and yelled my name, like, "Sin, give me the ball." And that's when I knew Maik was ready to play and he was locked in and he made plays for us all night. He just, he was prepared for the moment.

MAIK KOTSAR: The moment, when I made the shot, just I felt like it's going to go in, so take the shot. Nothing more to it.


Q. PJ as local kid, as somebody who has seen this program lower than it is now, to be at this high point, what are your emotions like now, having seen both ends of this?
PJ DOZIER: I'm speechless, man, honestly. I'm happy for those guys that came in and were on a mission. Frank Martin, when he came in five years ago, he was on a mission. He had an objective to turn this program around by getting great players like Sin, Justin McKie, other players, Mike Carrera. So we thank those guys that came or I thank those guys that came before me, that paved the way to be able to have this opportunity to put this program in the position that it's in.

Q. How much of a sense of accomplishment versus a sense of there's more to do is there for you right now?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: Yeah, we're not going to settle for this and we still feel, like, we got one more game. We're not going into that game thinking -- we're still going into that game thinking we can win. Why not? Why not us, why not go win it all. And that's our mindset. We feel like we can compete with anybody right now in the country.

Q. Guys, this is the third time in four of these games that you guys have been behind at the half. What is it, what quality is it that has allowed you guys to never panic and be able to close games when you get behind like that?
SINDARIUS THORNWELL: We just have been in that situation, like you said, so many times, when we played Florida at home, we was in that same situation down seven at half. We played Duke, we was down. Marquette we was down. We felt like we was doing the right things. We felt like everything was going good for us, it was just the ball wasn't falling in, and we just needed a couple more stops. So going into halftime we always just buckled in and locked in on what we needed to do to win and took it one possession at a time.

Q. PJ, usually we ask a Duke player this question. With about a minute and a half to go, you guys went back on defense and you slapped the court with both palms. What's going through your head then? And is Carolina now in that Duke-Carolina-Kentucky conversation?
PJ DOZIER: Oh, yeah. That's what we all signed up for. We signed up to be in this position. To be amongst the great teams, as you all would call them. So we know we have a team ourselves. That defensive play was just, it was emotion. We needed a stop, I'm pretty sure all the guys were just as excited as I was. We looked over to the bench, the bench is up, excited, getting the crowd pumped, the crowd's going crazy. So you just dream about being in positions like that on a stage like this.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We'll excuse the student-athletes and take questions for coach.

Q. You have great player in Sindarius, a special player. But all tournament long you've been getting a lot of production from all the starting five. You had four in double figures and a lot of the games you did. Can you express what they have meant down this run, too?
FRANK MARTIN: Been like that all year. I don't know, some people start reporting that we're a one-man team and all that and it's been like that all year. We had four guys averaging double figures until the end of the season, and then Chris just kind of slipped out of there. We hit a little tough patch first couple weeks in February. Every team goes through it. Everybody has decided to judge these kids based on those two weeks, rather than the five months. And that's a why we're sitting here right now, because they don't pay attention to that nonsense. They believe in each other. You heard them talk about trust. They're completely invested into each other. Not winning. Each other, which then allows you to win. And they're powerful kids, man, powerful kids.

Q. When the buzzer goes off and your assistant coaches hug you, can you just describe what the emotions were like in that initial moment as the buzzer went off?
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, just, those guys have been with me, Bob Huggins hired me at Cincinnati and he helped me at Northeastern. I'm thinking of my high school coach that took a chance on a guy that wasn't worth a crap as a player and for whatever reason believed in me. And became a father figure in my life. I'm thinking of Huggs, fighting to give me a chance. Just every guy I've coached over 32, 33 years. I'm the luckiest human being in the world. I just continue to have incredible people put in my life. And a lot of people have believed in me and not given up on me when they should have, to be honest with you. So all that's going through my mind. And when Huggs got the West Virginia job, he could have done what every other coach in America would have done, he could have taken the other assistants with him. That means that Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen, Michael Beasley, all those guys would have gone with him to West Virginia. And instead he huddled all the coaches up and he said, it's Frank's turn. I'll be okay. And he made sure that we stayed together. And here we are same group of guys, Brad Underwood, Lamont Evans, guys that have believed in us. But from Doug Edwards to Andy Assaley, Scott Greenawalt, Matt Figger, who is my dude. That guy, I can't wait for somebody to give Matt a head job. He's a stud. And their families.

When I -- we were winning at Kansas State. And when I walked in and I said, I'm thinking of doing this. Those families, man, I become responsible for their children, it's part of my job. And they all said, Frank, if that's what you think we need to do, we're in. And I'm just telling you, I'm the luckiest dude on the planet. The people that are put in my life daily are just incredible.

Q. I saw right after the game, one of your first conversations was with your mom and it looked very heartfelt. Can you describe the sacrifices she made and how she contributed to who you are?
FRANK MARTIN: Strongest woman I've ever met. Husband runs out, leaves her, never gives her a penny, she never takes him to court. Doesn't make excuses. Worked on a salary for -- as a secretary. Raised my sister and I. We'd go to Wendy's or Burger King every two Fridays, that was our family meal. She gave me the courage to try and do this for a living. Every time I'm in a difficult moment and I got to make a choice and do right or do wrong -- I made her cry one time when I was a teenager because I made the wrong choice. I'm never making her cry again for making the wrong choice. And watching her cry tears of joy because of all her sacrifices have allowed me and my sister to move forward in life. Those are the tears that are important to me. That's extending her life. When you make your mother cry for joy, it gives her more life and she's special lady. Special lady.

Q. Your guys mentioned that you -- when you came in, you were on a mission. And I know that the wins were hard to come by at first, but did you ever think that it would end up at this moment? Was there ever a doubt in your mind that you would get here eventually?
FRANK MARTIN: Anyone that's in sports dreams of moments like this. It's not something that you start dreaming it the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day. And the thing is that you have to work towards getting better every day. Not get wrapped up on good and bad and losses and wins. And the goal was, I've never changed my mindset. It's been my mindset from day one. Our job was to elevate our program to where we can compete for a SEC championship. That was it. And that's what we have been striving to do. And I know that if we can elevate our program to where we can compete for a SEC championship, because I know our league, we have a chance to win games in this tournament. And that's what's happened. Our kids believe in each other, they work their tails off, and we keep our focus where it matters. And that's on one another. And not letting, not making things easy for each other. On the contrary. Making things hard for one another so we can be prepared and bond and be prepared for this moment.

Q. Almost every fan that I've talked to between the last game and this one brought up that letter that you wrote and the special connection that they felt getting even stronger. That was almost like a heavy weight bout out there. Talk about the difference the fans made today.
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, that's why I wrote it. Columbia is a special place. It's got great people. Our state's a special place. And you guys know this. I've learned it over the last five years. The way it welcomed our family from day one, and we were all outsiders. Our kids weren't winning, but fans were signing up for it. I love going to the other team's games and seeing what Dawn built. And everyone wants to talk about football. Obviously the football atmosphere's second to none. But I go to volleyball games and it's sold out, I go to soccer games and they're sold out, I go to softball games and they're sold out. And I just, I kept saying, God, if we can connect with this community, with this alumni base. You know, Bruce Ellington and Darius Rucker, two guys that I've gotten to know because of basketball, both in tears after the game. Bruce, he's a special young man to me. And I only coached him for 18, 19 games. But he's a special human being. And then Darius, everyone knows Darius. But to see how important this school is to him, as successful as he is in life, just continues to show me what special people we have supporting our university. And that's why I wrote the letter. And it was my feelings and it's what I meant. And I had no idea we were going to win. None. But I needed our fans to understand that in a powerful moment, where I know they were paying attention because of our team's success and I wanted to make sure they understood the way my staff, myself, my family and obviously, the players feel.

Q. You talked about dreaming about this. Does it feel like you dreamt it would? And also how long before you think about Gonzaga?
FRANK MARTIN: I'm not going to pay Gonzaga a bit of attention until some time tomorrow. I'm not. We go back to my high school days. I'm fortunate, I was an assistant on five state championships, I was a head coach on three other state championships. So in 16 years as a head high school coach, I was a part of eight state championships. And every year I would sit around and I would say, maybe one day, if maybe some day I get a chance, maybe I can do that one day. But I realized I didn't have the pedigree or the background or the basketball history as a player. And it took a gentleman named -- I went through an adverse -- you see adversity's about -- I said this the other day at one of our press conferences back home -- we tend to jump on these kids when they make mistakes as if we didn't make mistakes. And some of us got caught, some of us haven't been caught.

But when we sit around and start judging people and their difficult moments, it says a lot about the people that criticize, not the people that make the mistakes. And I was a part of an unfortunate situation, coaching high school basketball. And it was under my watch. I still to this day say we were not guilty, but I was responsible for that situation. And I lost my job. And that was the first time I ever said, you know what, I'm going to try this college thing. And I couldn't -- I said the story, only one person wrote me back. And that was Coach K. The only person. And then I ended up taking a year later, I had a principal named Linda Evans, she gave me a job to coach her basketball school. And I loved it. And then a gentleman named Rudy Keeling called me and offered me a job at Northeastern. And here we are, man. Here we are.

If you ever lose your dream or your desire to fight for your dream, then don't get mad when you don't get it. But adversity, adversity, how we handle that, determines what comes forward and go back to my mom, my grandma. They told my grandma, you got to leave your house now. And you're going to this country where you don't speak their language. And you got to go sew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and figure it out. She lost her husband to a heart attack, so now she was left with my mom and my uncle as teenagers, didn't speak a lick of English. Some how, some way, here I am today. All because of her courage. So, you know, it's just a lot of stuff, man. A lot of stuff right now. But you can't lose your dream.

Q. This obviously is very emotional, so stick with me for just one second here. You talked yesterday about being a dreamer. You talking about all the dreams of your family now. You married a woman from New York City, get to play in the regional here, and at exactly five o'clock you cut the last snip off the net and wave it around while Frank Sinatra's belting out New York New York. Is it something you can even dream of?
FRANK MARTIN: No. My wife turned me down seven times to go out on a date. Seven. Seven. And the day she made the mistake on going out on a date with me, I never let her go. And she mothers my children, she puts up with my nonsense about work, when we came to a new community where she knew nobody at, she's been dealing with our kids while I've been running around the country trying to build a program. New York's a special place to me, my sister, her husband, their children, they live in the Cobble Hill area in Brooklyn. They run a family, little family restaurants, they work every single day, the way my grandmother and my mother taught us to work. My wife's family, same story as my family. Unbelievable that she's the one that gets put in my life. And I'm up there and people like have asked me before, what kind of music I listen to. I listen to Sinatra. And I usually listen to "My Way" the day of the game. And then to be up on that ladder cutting that net and a life-long dream, and hear "New York New York" at a place that's special to me, special to my family, it's pretty powerful.

Q. 7-12 of them in the first half from three. 0-14 second half. Did you do anything different or was it just one of those times where some shots were going in and you just keep doing what you're doing?
FRANK MARTIN: Yeah, I don't want to speak for Mike's kids, which by the way, what a job by Mike White and those kids. Unbelievable. I don't know. This, I lived this situation seven years ago. And they had that hard overtime game. And what was it? 36 hours ago or something like that? By the time they got back to the hotel. Did they kind of run out of juice a little bit? I don't know. I thought they missed some open looks. We played harder. We played better offensively. I thought our ball screen defense was a lot better in the second half than it was in the first half. But I also think they missed some shots. And sometimes that ball bounces your way, sometimes it does not. And I'm just, I'm not trying to take credit away from our guys, I think as the half evolved we defended better and better and better. But three-point defense has been a staple of our team all year. They made some hard shots in the first half and it was against our zone more than anything. It was the difference in the game.

Q. Your team has made these insane second half runs throughout the entire tournament. What do you feed your team at halftime that causes them to just go out there and dominate?
FRANK MARTIN: You know, they didn't throw in -- it goes back to adversity, okay? When we weren't good enough to win, they never threw in the towel. We have a little saying that we started this year and we were, kind of when we were scrambling a little bit, and in late January, early February, and I said to our guys, I said, have you guys ever been in a tug of war? Some of them said yes, some said no. I said, well, if you haven't, this is how it works. And you have two groups of people and they're both pulling in opposite directions. If one person on one side let's go of the rope, it's bad. I don't care how hard it is, you can't let go of the rope or your team's going to lose. So we started saying, we're in a difficult moment right now, hold on to that rope, don't let that rope go. I don't care how hard it gets, don't let that rope go. And our guys are fully invested in it. So at half times of games our guys don't panic. I'm the one that loses my mind. They don't panic, they stay the course, they hold on to that rope. Doesn't mean we're going to win, but they don't give in to a difficult moment. They don't throw in the towel. And that's a credit to them, because they're young, they're trying to figure life out. And they don't run away from difficult times. On the contrary, they embrace it and they figure a way to get out of it. I want to say the last three games, is that what it's been? Been the same case. So, I'm the guy that's been eating too much the last three weeks, max. I think I put on 10 pounds since the conference tournament started. And I'm working out, man. So that tells you how much I've been eating. Especially up here in New York, they feed me too much up here. But I'm going to close with this: I don't know what your future is, don't change, man. Don't change. You're a sharp young man. You're powerful. I can articulate every -- the two questions you've asked me, I can articulate everything that you've said because of the way you represent yourself. Powerful stuff, man. Powerful stuff. You got an old man up here learning from you. Powerful stuff. Thank you guys.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

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