Frank Martin reflects on FIU experience, coaching journey

University of South Carolina men’s basketball head coach Frank Martin graduated from FIU in 1993 and this past spring took his Gamecocks to the Final Four. Along the way, he coached his team against the Panthers, something he looks forward to doing again this month in Miami.

“I wanted to bring my team and my players back to the community and have my team play in front of the university that helped form me into the person I am today and strive to be every day,” says Martin, who remembers FIU with great fondness.

Catch the game at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27, at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center.

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By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17

For Frank Martin, a first-generation Cuban-American growing up in Miami during the 1970s and 1980s, football was king.

At the time, basketball was almost entirely non-existent in the Miami sports landscape. The Miami Heat didn’t exist yet and there were no Division I college basketball programs in town (FIU was still in Division II while the University of Miami had discontinued its program in 1971, which it did not restart until 1985).

So Martin and his friends grew up watching and idolizing the Miami Dolphins, in the midst of the franchise’s glory days that included Super Bowl wins, star players and, of course, a perfect season.

“I wanted to be Larry Csonka. All I cared about was playing football and watching the Dolphins,” Martin says.

But then, just as he was starting 10th grade at Miami High, a friend invited him to watch the school’s varsity basketball team play. As he walked into the gymnasium, affectionately dubbed “The Asylum,” he was entranced by the scene in front of him: a raucous, sold-out crowd packed into the stands to cheer on the Stingarees as they hosted rival Northwestern High.

As he watched the game unfold, something inside him shifted. It was as if a switch had been flipped on somewhere inside Martin’s mind, revealing the path he was always meant to travel.

“From that day forward, I tried to pursue basketball,” Martin says. “Here we are 34 years later and it’s what’s allowed me to grow as a man and meet the people I’ve met in my life.”

He joined the Miami High basketball team and later went on to play for Miami-Dade College, but a knee injury cut his playing career short. After that, he turned his focus to coaching and never looked back.

Now he is the intense and passionate head coach for the South Carolina men’s basketball team. This past spring, he guided the Gamecocks all the way to the Final Four for the first time in school history.

But long before his squad’s Cinderella run to college basketball’s biggest stage, Martin’s journey included several formative years at FIU that helped him develop many of the core values that still drive him today.

While Martin was a student at FIU in the early 1990s, he had two jobs: one as the head coach for Miami High’s junior varsity squad and the other as a bouncer at a local nightclub. After graduating, he quickly became one of the most successful high school coaches in the country, winning three consecutive state championships from 1996 to 1998 with Miami High.

“The blue-collar mentality that Miami possesses is seen through FIU and how it’s grown over the years. That’s why the connection is so special for me,” says Martin, who graduated in 1993 with a degree in physical education. “That community I grew up with, in the city and at the university, made me the man I try to be every single day. I’m not perfect, but I’m not scared to work at getting better everyday.”

FIU News caught up with Martin to reflect on his Final Four experience and how FIU helped shape the him:

FIU News: What made this past season special and unique?

Frank Martin: When we all got here, we were not very good. So when you fast forward three-and-a-half years and realize we got that close to a national championship, it kind of validates what a special group of guys they were.

It’s also inclusive of all the guys that I’ve been fortunate to coach here at South Carolina and before South Carolina. That’s the beauty of a moment like that, brings a lot of people together from a lot of different parts of your life.

FIU News: Did you ever think you would end up coaching in a Final Four and coming that close to winning a national championship? 

Martin: It’s a dream. If you’re a coach, you dream everyday of that platform. But you also understand that very few coaches get that opportunity.

I’m very next-game oriented; that’s how I’m cut. I’m always focused on what’s in front of me. So when we got to the Final Four, it was just a ‘wow’ moment. When I stood on that court, shoulder to shoulder with my team and the national anthem started playing, I started looking around and I realized just how absolutely lucky I was to be there and how fortunate I was to be around those incredible kids that allowed me to be a part of that incredible moment.

FIU News: What stood out to you about your FIU experience?

Martin: When you grow up in Miami, you’re used to the hustle, the traffic – everything that comes with Miami. But when you got on campus, you almost forgot you were in Miami. FIU was just a very student-friendly environment. Everyone from my classmates to the different professors I had, the environment of the campus… it was just one of those campuses that was very embracing.

FIU News: What was your favorite FIU memory?

Martin: It was definitely graduation. When I got to that moment, wearing that cap and gown, I realized how long of a journey I had come through. FIU was the school that believed in me; it was the place that gave me a chance to be a student and had the patience with me in my journey. That’s something that I’ll never forget. Being a college student was something I never envisioned when I was younger, so it was an incredible memory.

I didn’t have any scholarships, so I needed to make money in order to go to school. That’s why getting a degree was powerful for me. It was not given. It was definitely earned, and anytime you earn something it makes it that much more special. Those were some great years of my life and I’m proud to be an alumnus.

FIU News: What advice would you give to yourself if you had to start college all over again?

Martin: Try to invest more trust in the people that are attending college with you. Your classmates are there for a reason, whether they brought themselves there or some talent brought them there or someone convinced them to go to school there.

Trust is the most powerful tool we have as people, because investing trust in others helps them figure out a way to achieve more and achieve the greatness they want to reach one day. And when others trust in you, they do the same for you.