Frank Martin’s perfect record in exhibition games is likely to continue Monday evening at Colonial Life Arena.
Not that the South Carolina basketball coach will be paying much attention.
“I can care less about the score Monday,” Martin said last week. “Exhibition games, that’s why they’re called exhibition games.
“Now obviously you don’t ever want to lose a game. You’re putting on the uniform, and the fans are in the stands and you want to win if you’re a competitor – you’re playing in a pickup game, you want to win – but there’s a bigger picture, and that’s for me to just see some guys I’ve never coached in a game before.”
The likes of Kory Holden, Wesley Myers and David Beatty will debut for Martin when the Gamecocks host Division II Erskine at 7 p.m. That trio is among eight new players on this USC team, giving it a different feel from the one last seen participating in the Final Four.
But, despite the notable departures, Martin has expressed confidence this preseason that his sixth Gamecocks squad will still be a good one. There’s only so much one can assess in practice, however.
“We do have some youth, but I really like our youth,” Martin said during SEC media day in Nashville. “The one thing I’ve got to figure out about our team ... isn’t going to happen until we start playing games. How do they handle when the lights come on and you’re in a difficult moment regardless of who you’re playing, who’s going to take the bull by the horns?
“Who’s going to stand up tall when things get difficult? Who’s going to get their feelings hurt when they don’t play 35 minutes a game the way they think they’re going to play? Who’s going to handle the referee making a bad call?
“I don’t know about that, and I won’t know about that until we start playing games.”
When it came to crunch time in the past, Martin could rely on Sindarius Thornwell, the reigning SEC Player of the Year who’s now with the Los Angeles Clippers. Holden on Thursday was asked if he could fill that void in his first season as a Gamecock.
“I believe that I can be that type of player,” said the high-scoring junior guard who transferred to USC from Delaware. “But also, I’m not going to do anything outside the system. I’ll do everything inside the system that could hopefully get me into the position to make whatever shot I need to make.”
Martin said it’s tough to simulate such moments in exhibition games.
“You get a feel for it,” Martin said, “but at the end of the day, the players also know that game doesn’t count from a won-loss standpoint.”
South Carolina is 5-0 under Martin in exhibitions, outscoring its opponents by an average score of 84-64. The Erskine Fleet, hailing from Due West, South Carolina, went 10-20 last season.
“It’s been a long offseason, yeah, but we’ve gone at it in practice pretty much every day,” said USC sophomore forward Maik Kotsar. “We’ve gone hard, Frank’s made us go hard every day. There’s pretty much no days off, and I think we’re going to be good.”