January 8, 2013 10:52:00 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The two head coaches at Humphrey Coliseum were given the same task on paper but not the same procedure to get the rebuilding project accomplished.
At the University of South Carolina, Frank Martin was given just over $2 million a year based on his reputation of making a perennial bottom feeder program in Kansas State University an annual NCAA Tournament participant.
Martin told the players Tuesday morning they weren't far off from SEC success, despite going 10-21 and 2-14 in the league last season.
Martin will get the opportunity he's waited for since taking the Gamecocks job last March and that's his first Southeastern Conference game in Humphrey Coliseum at Mississippi State University (7 p.m., ESPN3).
"When you coach in a league like the SEC, everything you do with your team from the day you first show up in August to the season end should be all organized around preparing your team to compete in league play," Martin said. "Because it's all about league play."
MSU head coach Rick Ray knows the reputation of Martin and it has nothing to do with the man's signature stare when things don't go well during games. The Bulldogs' first-year coach knows Martin will coach his team to challenge Ray's first two objectives in evaluating his club: playing hard and playing smart.
"The big thing about them is they do a great job of attacking the glass," Ray said. "Everything else pales in comparison to what happens when the ball goes up on the rim. That's the thing that we have to beprepared for is Frank Martin has a reputation of developing tough, hard-nosed teams and so we have to be ready for combat when we go get rebounds and loose balls."
Despite having no experience as a head coach, Ray was in the same situation of Martin in learning a new conference and players in his program. However, the major difference was losing so much talent before the opener to injuries. Currently all Ray can now do is laugh about what he called "the grand total" of seven scholarship players currently active for MSU (5-7) tonight.
"I try to be an upbeat person and you look at what we've been through and you have to look at it in light sometime or else it will drive you crazy and it was purposeful but it was funny at the time," Ray said.
Martin has led South Carolina (10-3) to their exact win total last season in a light non-league schedule but said Monday in the SEC teleconference that he's already seen immediate progress that he can point to for this 2012-13 campaign.
"You've got your days that you kind of see a little twinkle of a light somewhere that kind of gives you hope to keep pushing and you might get to the end of that tunnel," Martin said. "And then there's days you look out there and it's dark as heck and you can't figure out a way to get your head above water. As a coach, I don't get wrapped up into records or all this other stuff. It's just like raising a child. It's just like teaching a math class. Did we do a better job today than we did yesterday?"
Ray, who ironically worked at a glorified math think tank before getting into coaching, says the two programs situations aren't the same but is interested to see how his team develops in a different style of play.
"I'm sure he's going through some trials and tribulations and I don't know if they're comparable," Ray said. "He's a good coach and has a program and a approach that works but it'll be interesting to see how it plays out for them."
South Carolina will be getting back a major contributor in point guard Bruce Ellington after he's been away from the program while playing for the Gamecocks football team.
"Basketball and football are two different sports because they're played differently," Martin said. "I could tell after 12 practices that he's got a chance to be real, real good. I'm sure it will take him 10, 12, 14 days to start feeling comfortable."
MSU has returned the scoring services of junior Jalen Steele after he fractured his wrist in November and the Knoxville, Tenn., native has averaged 13 points off the bench in his first two games back from the injury.
"Jalen is a key factor of this program," MSU forward Colin Borchert said. "When he steps on the floor all eyes are on him. That has opened up the court a lot more just for easy layups. The offense is more crisp. Since he has come back we have been running, going hard and getting better everyday in practice."