Gamecocks coach finds time for a short day trip
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin yells at his bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Apparently it was a first.
No one involved with the Downtown Tip-Off Club could remember a college coach speaking at one of its luncheons on the same day his team was scheduled to play, but that is exactly what South Carolina Coach Frank Martin did Wednesday when he addressed a crowd of about 200 at Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock.
Bobby Vint, the leader of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce’s sports committee, and Steve Shields, UALR’s men’s basketball coach, managed to convince Martin to speak at the luncheon about seven hours before tip off of South Carolina’s game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Vint said he looked at the Razorbacks’ schedule early last fall and hoped to get Martin to speak the day before the game. He thought even that would be difficult.
“I knew it might be a stretch,” Vint said.
Vint, who is close friends with Shields, said he knew that Shields and Martin also were close, and Shields agreed to give Martin a call.
“I knew it was going to be in the middle of the season and it was probably a long shot, but I called him,” Shields said. “And this is the way Frank is. When I asked him, he said, ‘Steve, if it will help you, I’ll find a way.’ ”
Martin called Vint and agreed to the engagement, but he said he would prefer to speak on game day rather than the day before his team played in Fayetteville.
Vint arranged to have a plane fly Martin round trip from Fayetteville to Little Rock, with a departure of 9:30 a.m. and a return of 2 p.m.
“He said, ‘That’s perfect. I won’t be doing anything but worrying about the game anyway,’ ” Vint said. “That’s how it evolved.”
Martin said he felt relieved prior to addressing the crowd at the luncheon.
“This is a lot better than sitting in a hotel room and staring at the television set,” Martin said. “This allows me to get my mind off the game for a little bit.”
Looking ahead to the game, Martin told the crowd that with the way the Razorbacks have played recently that his team’s best chance for victory might require a rule change.
“If we can get a bonus point every time we bring the ball across midcourt, then we might have a chance,” he said.
Martin’s battles against Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson go back to their Big 12 Conference days when Martin coached at Kansas State and Anderson was at Missouri. He assured the crowd that the Razorbacks were very good and would soon compete for championships.
“Mike’s going to get it going,” he said. “I promise you, Mike’s great.”
Martin answered questions for half an hour and seemed in no hurry to leave when the luncheon ended. When he and Vint left the auditorium for the airport, only the cleanup crew, other workers and Shields remained.
“That’s just the way he is,” Shields said. “It all goes to show you how real, how sincere, Frank is.”
Sports, Pages 20 on 02/20/2014