COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Frank Martin believes he's the same straight-forward, open book he has always been, though perceptions of him have changed with the Gamecocks' run to the Final Four.
''How the stories have changed that I'm a yeller and a screamer to that I'm a passionate man,'' Martin said Tuesday, ''I find that very comical.''
It has been at times a difficult, at times an amusing and at times a frustrating ride during Martin's five seasons with the Gamecocks, who are two wins away from a national title after not winning an NCAA Tournament game in 44 years before this March. They play Gonzaga Saturday night in Phoenix.
''I'm having the time of my life, because of the kids in that locker room,'' Martin said.
Martin has had a very fluid locker room since he arrived from Kansas State with a successful NCAA pedigree - four tournaments in five years with the Wildcats - in March 2012. He lost four players off his roster after the first season, and two or more every year after that including this past offseason with the departures of forwards Eric Cobb and Raymond Doby, and guards Marcus Stroman and Jamall Gregory. The four were expected to add depth to this season's roster.
Instead, Martin did what he's leaned on since arriving - teaching young people life lessons and his way of playing basketball.
''You could see how much he cared,'' said Estonia native Maik Kotsar, the 6-foot-10 freshman who scored 12 points in South Carolina's 77-70 win over Florida last Sunday to reach the Final Four.
Sometimes, Martin acknowledged, he cared too much.
At the end of his second season in March 2014, Martin the "yeller and screamer" was caught dressing down freshman guard Duane Notice, a tirade that angered some fans behind the bench and earned Martin a one-game suspension from athletic director Ray Tanner.
''''I talk to my players a lot about maturity,'' he said at the time. ''I think it's time I work on my maturity as well.''
Martin has not given up on the yelling and his players say any harsh words are balanced with a parent's devotion and fierce loyalty.
When backup point guard Rakym Felder was arrested at a campus night club area before ever playing a game, Martin defended him loudly to many who knew nothing about him.
''He's not a good kid,'' Martin said of Felder, ''he's a beautiful kid.''
Felder said upon his return, ''I knew Frank would have my back, and he wouldn't give up on me.''
Players don't give up on Martin, either.
South Carolina leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell was a rising star his freshman year with many whispering in his ear that the Gamecocks - 14-20 for their fifth straight losing season - would never succeed and he should declare for the NBA. Thornwell stayed and has led the Gamecocks first-ever Final Four journey. He's scored 102 points in four NCAA games.
Thornwell was suspended by Martin for six games this season for violating athletic department policy. Thornwell was later found to have been charged with marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license last May. When the suspension was over , Martin welcomed Thornwell back in good standing.
''Coach didn't guarantee us anything but to come here and just work hard,'' Thornwell said.
Notice also is part of South Carolina's trio of senior guards is Notice. He said he never took Martin's harsh language personally and never seriously considered leaving the Gamecocks.
Kotsar, a freshman forward, said he watched the Gamecocks lose to Georgia on his recruiting trip last March. But what he took away from that was hos disappointed South Carolina players were at the defeat and how much they wanted to work to turn things around.
''I really liked that,'' Kotsar said.
Martin says he has enjoyed this season because players understood early on what it took to succeed and rarely let up on their effort.
Martin chuckles how his story has morphed with the team's success, death glares and shouts overshadowed by cuddly postgame answers to reporters.
''I'm an open book,'' Martin said. ''The people who want to judge me on a 30-second clip on the sideline out of a 40-minute game in a 24-hour day, that's their prerogative.''
His mission, he says, is to stay grounded to teach his players how to overcome mistakes ''so maybe one day, they can be successful.''
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