To say that South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin has achieved the seemingly impossible this year by leading the Gamecocks to its first Final Four in school history is an understatement.
South Carolina fans have enjoyed complete and total bliss for more than a week as they’ve watched the Gamecocks’ stunning upset and knock out of Duke, a complete pounding of Baylor and an impressive win over No. 4 Florida to head to its first ever Final Four on Saturday, April 1.
Ironically, it’s April Fool’s Day.
But Coach Martin is no fool.
In fact, he has shown such determination and love for his team, Gamecock fans, the college and the entire state of South Carolina that, for many people in the Palmetto State, he has already proven that he is a national champion.
Is he an outstanding basketball coach?
Absolutely. There is no doubt about that.
However, he is also a very confident and intelligent leader that is helping to make South Carolina look very good in the national spotlight.
For instance, after South Carolina’s incredible defeat of No. 2 seed, Duke, on March 19, that win should have been all that was on reporters’ minds during his post-game news conference.
The Gamecocks had just upset Duke, one of the winningest schools in college basketball history, led by Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who also happens to be the winningest coach in college basketball history.
It’s safe to say, it was a pretty big win for Martin and the Gamecocks.
But like many national events held in the South, there was controversy outside the game and the stadium that had also caught the nation’s eye.
Prior to the game, a small group of protesters flew a large Confederate flag on top of a parking garage next to the Greenville, S.C. arena that was hosting the NCAA Tournament games last weekend.
Of course, the huge Confederate flag was reportedly raised from the back of a pickup truck where fans entering the arena could clearly see it.
It didn’t take long for Greenville police to ask the truck and its giant flag to move away from the edge of the parking garage.
Apparently, the police said it was a public safety concern because the high winds could cause the flag to tip over, according to the Associated Press.
The appearance of a Confederate flag at the NCAA Tournament games in Greenville was definitely unfortunate because the NCAA had recently lifted its ban against holding championship games in the Palmetto State less than two years ago.
Back in 2002, the NCAA pulled events from that state because of the Confederate flag was flying on the Statehouse grounds.
Following the massacre of nine African-American members of a Charleston church by murderer Dylann Roof, who had frequently been pictured with the Confederate flag, South Carolina lawmakers agreed to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015.
Finally, South Carolina was once again being viewed as a progressive state.
In fact, Greenville was selected as the site for the tournament only after the NCAA decided to remove the games from Greensboro, N.C. due to the HB2 bill, which limits protections offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
It seemed like South Carolina was making some headway, but then the nation watched as a handful of protestors decided it was a good idea to display a huge Confederate flag prior to the NCAA Tournament games in Greenville.
Needless to say, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt wasn’t happy.
“The NCAA is proud and excited to host championships in the state of South Carolina once again,” Gavitt said in a statement released by the NCAA. “We are committed to assuring that our events are safe and accessible to all. No symbols that compromise that commitment will be permitted to be displayed on venue property that the tournament controls.”
So when it came time for South Carolina Coach Frank Martin to celebrate and talk about his team’s stunning upset of Duke to the national press last weekend, he was also asked about the Confederate flag seen flying outside the arena prior to the game.
Now, many coaches across the country would have probably lost their cool and barked an answer like, “I’m here to talk about basketball, not politics.”
Or they would’ve tried to dance around such a racially charged topic like the Confederate flag.
Instead, Martin spoke his mind.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s America,” Martin told the national media. “You think we all agree on everything? Our state is united. Our state believes in peace and harmony. That’s why this event is being held in our state right now. Our state is progressive. Our state has incredible people that are about moving forward. But it’s America. We have freedoms. People have freedoms to do whatever they want to do with themselves and their property. It is what it is.”
But he didn’t stop there.
“There are things out there that I don’t like. But I can’t force people to do what I want them to do,” Martin said. “All I know is this unbelievable university and state has taken in a son of Cuban immigrants that’s married to a Jamaican woman, has mixed kids, and they’ve treated me like I’m one of their own from day one.”
All of a sudden, Martin turned what could have been a terribly ugly moment for South Carolina to a major highlight of the evening.
A highlight that was really equivalent to the Gamecocks’ win over Duke.
“I wouldn’t want to coach in any other state or with any other group of people, for any other bosses than the ones I’ve got,” Martin said. “Our alums, our community is a beautiful, beautiful place. It’s a united state.”
Bravo, Coach Martin. You have done the Palmetto State extremely proud — both on and off the court.
The best of luck to you and the Gamecocks in the Final Four this weekend.