On the West Coast, on Saturday night, the USC women’s basketball team tipped off against No. 1-seeded Stanford. Head coach Dawn Staley delivered on the promise she showed as a player at Virginia, and a coach at Temple. Who would have expected that last year, or the year before, or for most of the past decade that the Gamecocks would have been 40 minutes of playing time away from an Elite Eight spot?
Stanford won, as expected. But what the Carolina women’s program has become wasn’t. After upsetting Purdue in the previous round, the AP reported, “There have been a lot of great days this season for the Gamecocks, who won at Tennessee for the first time, made their first appearance in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals and earned their first NCAA bid since 2003. By advancing on Monday, they matched the 2001-02 team for the school’s most wins in the SEC era.”
A decade ago, The State‘s Neil White, in his “Talk of the Town” column, joked that excitement over the female ballers made Gamecock fans completely forget about football — filling the old Coliseum. And why not? That same devotion was won by the men’s team, until they both went on long slides that claimed more than one head coach’s job.
But, Staley’s leadership and her ability to rebuild the program are undoubtable. Some people seem to be predisposed to winning at the college level. Perhaps Staley is one of those people. Bear Bryant said, “I ain’t never been nothin’ but a winner,” but he still turned down an offer from the Miami Dolphins because the NFL wasn’t for him. Speaking of Alabama and coaches, Tide men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant is the godfather of the eldest son of the new Gamecocks’ men’s coach.
Frank Martin, formerly of Kansas State, made it official on Monday when he accepted the gig at USC. As a matter of fact, K-State put a wallop on the Tide in December, so it’s not as if he’s coming into the job blind. Even Martin’s cohorts on CBS — when he stepped in during the NCAA Tournament — were pushing him to make the move.
“Martin joked that he had basketball studio analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony urging him to take the job before he left. ‘That’s how much respect people have for South Carolina basketball,’ Martin said.”
Martin’s been to the Tournament three of the last four seasons and he has a trip to the Elite Eight on his resume. Could USC athletics director Eric Hyman be putting together a powerhouse of coaching staffs? The growth is there in basketball, and before you call Gamecock hoops “the Mojave Desert of college basketball,” like Tony Kornheiser did on “Pardon the Interruption” this week, football was in an even worse position.
After six years of the Head Ball Coach, he “got over,” as the kids say, and the gripes following last season aren’t coming from those in garnet, but from Clemson partisans whose team is claim to the 2011 ACC Championship.
Putting together a well-rounded, top-flight athletic program is one of the hardest goals in college sports. But of all the stereotypes of the Carolina fanbase, eternal hope is one. And there’s plenty of that around Columbia these days.
by J.L. Mann Cromer, Jr., who served as the only true independent member of the South Carolina General Assembly from 1990-1998. Currently, he is a general practice attorney in Columbia, S.C., concentrating in probate and estate planning, criminal defense and personal injury law.