Frank Martin doesn't mind assigning blame for South Carolina's 6-15 season in 2020-2021, which he called "the most difficult year of my life professionally." He blames himself.
"At the end of the day, it's self-accountability," he said during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" visit on SEC This Morning. "It's the first time I was part of a bad year as a head coach. It's the first time that I truly believe I didn't do my job. That was unbelievable."
The coach himself was struck with COVID-19 not once but twice, "but it wasn't just COVID," he said. "I'd been battling a really bad knee. I'd been living in pain for a year and a half before COVID kicked my tail around like no human being's ever kicked it. Last year, every decision I made didn't work. I just didn't do my job. I wish I could tell you something differently. When you don't do your job, everything kinda comes apart at the seams. That's what happened here."
What happened came on the heels of the best six-year run for the program since the 1970s, which included the two best records in school history, an SEC player of the year in Sindarius Thornwell and a trip to the 2017 Final Four.
Martin will try to return to those winning ways on the shoulders of four players who averaged double figures in scoring last season. Two of them, redshirt junior guard Jermaine Couisnard (10.1 ppg) and senior forward Keyshawn Bryant (14.4 ppg), put up those quality numbers for the Gamecocks. The other two did it at different schools before transferring to South Carolina.
The 6-4 grad transfer James Reese averaged 10.9 ppg on a North Texas team that won the Conference USA Tournament and upset Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-3 Chico Carter, a Columbia, S.C., native, averaged 12.7 ppg at Murray State.
Two more transfers are expected to make an immediate impact: 6-7 grad student AJ Wilson, who lettered for four seasons at George Mason and left as the program's career leader in blocked shots, and 6-4 senior Erik Stevenson from Washington.
Martin said he had recruited those players earlier either out of high school or the transfer portal.
"They're guys we had already identified that would fit us," he said. "If there was a year for this immediate eligibility situation for transfers to work out for us, this was the year. It's given our team an experience and a personality that we needed."
Mix in Martin's self-accountability, his return to health and the addition to the roster of his son Brandon, who transferred after three seasons at USC Upstate to play for his father for the first time, and you've got a program that's turned the page on last season.
"I feel as good as I've felt in a long time," Martin said. Personally, that means he's returned to the weight room. Professionally, it means the rest of the SEC has been warned.