Sapakoff: Frank Martin brought intensity but got his Gamecocks defense from Shakey Rodriguez

March 23, 2017 GMT

Finally it got to the point where 19-year-old assistant coach Francisco Jose Martin’s ear-splitting motivational tactics were so effective he was put in charge of the junior varsity basketball team. That was the day the JV head coach at Miami Senior High School called in sick.

The poor guy never got his job back.

A career was born for a coach now better known as Frank Martin, architect of South Carolina’s Sunday night NCAA Tournament upset of Duke and Sweet 16 date with Baylor on Friday night in New York.

“Frank was so good right away,” former Miami Senior varsity head coach Marcos “Shakey” Rodriguez said from South Florida. “I said, ‘Just keep doing it.’”

So good that Rodriguez and varsity assistant coach Anthony Grant, a former VCU and Alabama head coach now an assistant with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, would sneak into a bathroom to eavesdrop on Martin’s blistering locker room speeches. They tried to contain their giggling.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You have to give 120 percent!” Martin shouted during one halftime rant.

Later, Rodriguez pulled Martin aside.

“Frank,” he said, “how can you give more than 100 percent?”

The cleaned-up version of Martin’s answer: “Play harder.”

So Martin, a chubby Cuban-American kid who was an average player and a standout leader, imported intensity. But he got the Gamecocks’ pass-clogging defense from native Cuban Shakey Rodriguez, Martin’s high school coach and early mentor.

Intense pass defense

Rodriguez at Miami Senior – a nationally known powerhouse – preached football-style urgency, urging players not to allow opponents to complete forward passes. The goal was to force dribbling, and mistakes.

Martin picked it up playing for Rodriguez and coaching JV ball while working his way through college. He went with the same approach as a high school coach in Miami. He tweaked it while working for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati and Kansas State.

It’s what led to 18 Duke turnovers in the Gamecocks’ 88-81 upset of the No. 2 seed.

It’s why South Carolina is fifth nationally in turnovers forced (17.2).

The student, who turns 51 on Thursday, doesn’t fall far from the teacher, 64.

“If somebody on the other team caught a pass without someone from our team making an effort, that kid would come out of the game,” said Rodriguez, still coaching at Mater Academy in South Florida. “I developed a philosophy in high school, RP 32 – relentless pressure for 32 minutes. We would defend every inch of real estate.”

Defense isn’t the only reason to like these Gamecocks.

They are physical all over the court, as Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game.

Team chemistry is such a splendid thing in March.

ADVERTISEMENT

“First of all, they’re better offensively than people give them credit for,” Rodriguez said. “They play hard. And you can see that this group enjoys playing together. Sometimes players have a hard time adjusting to Frank but I can see this is his team, that they all believe in him. They know Frank really cares about them.”

Shakey vs. Kresse

John Kresse noticed something familiar as he watched the South Carolina-Duke game. The former College of Charleston coach tangled with Shakey Rodriguez’s Florida International teams twice in Trans America Athletic Conference Tournament championship games in Charleston.

The Cougars won both times, clinching automatic NCAA Tournament bids in 1997 and 1998.

But FIU – Martin’s alma mater – had future NBA players Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo, and they emphasized defense.

“Shakey Rodriguez was not only a great recruiter he was a very sound basketball coach who really had it going at both ends of the court,” Kresse said. “His defensive style was extremely aggressive, kind of war-like possessions every time. Frank Marin’s defense is almost identical to what Shakey showed at Florida International.”

Back to those earliest Martin halftime speeches.

“He would get on kids about everything,” Rodriguez said. “Nothing was sacred. And sometimes it was hysterical, like getting on a kid about his haircut.

“But I’ll tell you what, in the second half, Frank’s JV team would come out and play. There was no joking around.”

South Carolina trailed Duke at halftime in Greenville, 30-23.

The Gamecocks scored 65 pints in the second half, the most a Krzyzewski-coached Duke team has allowed in 1,269 games.

That was Sunday night.

Martin had many texts by Monday morning, one of them from Rodriguez:

“Complacency is the enemy of success.”

Rodriguez laughed.

“But,” Martin’s high school coach said, “not that a guy like Frank Martin needed to be reminded of that.”

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff