March Madness 2017: Frank Martin's influence at South Carolina stretches far beyond court

Frank Martin is, at heart, an educator, which is why he embraced the characterization that he was "nothing but a high school coach." That mindset still guides him as he approaches the Sweet 16 with the Gamecocks.

NEW YORK — Frank Martin's intensity is no secret.

You see it in the South Carolina coach's press conferences. You feel it in the locker room. It's thick like summer air outside Madison Square Garden.

Uponwalking into a post-practice locker room, every member of Martin's Gamecocks squad looks like he just went throughthe championship rounds with a world-class boxer. His influence permeates every corner.

Inhis sixthyear leading the Gamecocks program, Martin is squeezing every bit of great basketball he can out of this group. A first-round win over Marquette was the school's first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 1973. That was quickly followed by a high-profile upset of Duke that put South Carolina into the Sweet 16. This is the deepest NCAA Tournament run in school history.

MORE: Interactive March Madness bracket

Martin's fire is a big reason why the Gamecocks rallied past the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils on Sunday, and why his team is confident heading into Friday's matchup vs. East No. 3 seed Baylor at MSG (7:29 p.m. ET, TBS). Analysts believed that while Duke had more talent, the Gamecocks worked harder and wanted the win more. That's as Frank Martin as it gets. His players have adopted his never-stop-grinding mentality, his take-no-prisoners,earn-it attitude.

* * *

Years earlier, Martin had to earn respect as a college coach and erase doubts that followed him from his time in the Miami prep ranks.

"(Recruiters)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 used to sit there and laugh. I would say, 'Wow,'" Martin said Thursday. "And at the end of the year they said, 'Why would you always laugh when this was asked?' I said because you guys thought that you were trying to find a reason why I was going to fail, and what you didn't understand is that you were paying me the ultimate compliment that anyone could be paid, which is you were calling me an educator. That's who I am, I take pride.

"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. … The thing is, can you take that $20,000 job and make it a $120,000 job? Can you take a $120,000 job and make it a $1.2 million job? That's my job in life, to help people move forward."

MORE: Stats that you need to know for Friday's Sweet 16 matchups

* * *

The win over Duke also served as the national coming-out party for South Carolina's Energizer bunny, senior shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell, this season's Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. His play against the Blue Devils generated these postgame headlines around the 'net :

"Sindarius Thornwell destroyed Duke — and shook up March Madness"

"Sindarius Thornwell's NBA stock going up"

Even ESPN college basketball anaylst Dick Vitale affirmed Thornwell was worthy of all the praise. "He is legit as the MVP of the conference," he said.

Another reason why all those headlines were legit and not just clickbait: Thornwell did run wild on Duke. He scored 13 of his 24 points during the Gamecocks' 65-point second half. He also had six rebounds and five assists for the game. He never stopped grinding.

Thornwell, who served a six-game suspension in midseason for violating athletic department policy (the ban reportedly was for a marijuana-and-traffic-related arrest last May), has fully bought into what Martin is selling.

"(Martin) told us just to continue to listen to him," Thornwell said. "And we have listened to him all season, and don't (plan to) 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."

FAGAN: Martin foretold how Gameocks would rally past Duke

Thornwell and Co. have the talent and the mindset to keep winning, both on Friday vs. Baylor and in subsequent NCAA Tournaments. Martin has created that type of culture and mentality in Columbia.

"Once you got guys that's committed to the coach and what he wants, that's when you see things headed in the right direction," Thornwell said. "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."

* * *

While Thornwell has become the face of the program, this group of grinders also includes the signature piece of a Frank Martin team: aNew York guard.

Rakym Felder, a Brooklyn native, will take the stage in the mecca of basketball Friday. A misstep early in his South Carolina career almost ended his association with Martin; Felder was arrested on simple assault and other charges in October. Martin steered Felder right and hasn't left his side since the arrest.

Felder, in turn, has repaid Martin's support. The freshman scored 15 points against Duke and was 9 of 10 from the free throw line.

"I learned how to make peace instead of being the problem,I sat down with Frank a lot," Felder said. "He's a father figure to me. He's made me follow that path. … I could have been kicked out of school, and I could have been other places.

"I never had a father figure in my life. … (Martin)kept my mind positive and in the right direction."

On the outside, Frank Martin seems like a madman, but to some playershe's a dad, man. A man with an enduring message: Keep moving forward. Never stop grinding.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes