EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jablonski is counting down to the Dayton men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7 with 25 pieces (one every day until Nov. 7) previewing the 2022-23 season. This is the sixth story.
No one had a better time at Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week than new Massachusetts coach Frank Martin.
Martin had a big hug for his close friend Anthony Grant, the Dayton Flyers coach, after a group photo outside the Barclays Center. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot threw his arms around Martin later as Martin sat for a roundtable interview with reporters.
Martin has a big personality, and A-10 Media Day was a big stage for him to show it in the conference for the first time, though everyone can get a glimpse of his persona on Twitter on a near daily basis.
On Monday, Martin promised to buy a UMass class pizzas if 80% of the room showed up for a game. He had spoken to the class earlier, and one of the students wrote, “Can’t lie. (Martin) came in front of my marketing class for a few minutes to talk about rebuilding the program and getting us a competitive team, and I’m pretty juiced.”
The addition of Martin, who took South Carolina to the Final Four in 2011 but reached the NCAA tournament only once in 10 seasons before being fired after last season, to the A-10 is one of the many storylines that will interest Dayton fans this season because of his deep connection to Grant. They were teammates at Miami Senior High School 40 years ago in south Florida.
“We’ve been on a journey together since we were 14 years old,” Martin said. “We’ve been kids together. We’ve been basketball players together. We’ve been assistant coaches at the high school level together. We got in trouble together. We’ve done right things together. We we both had the courage to get into college basketball as coaches coming from a community that never puts out college coaches.”
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
UMass hired Martin in March after firing another coach close to Grant, Matt McCall, whose tenure ended with a loss to Dayton in the A-10 tournament quarterfinals.
Grant and Martin have coached against each other six times. When Grant was at Alabama and Martin was at Kansas State, they played twice. Kansas State beat Alabama 87-74 on Dec. 19, 2009, in Mobile, Ala. Two seasons later, No. 23 Alabama lost 71-58 to Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo.
When they both were in the Southeastern Conference — Martin at South Carolina and Grant at Alabama — they split four games from 2013-2015.
Martin and Grant will coach against each other once in A-10 play this season: Feb. 22 in Amherst, Mass. As often as they have ran into each other over the years, they would rather not have to play each other.
“I don’t enjoy competing against Frank just because of our relationship as friends,” Grant said at A-10 Media Day. “But I think it’s a great coup for the league to get (Martin). He’s just an ambassador for the game. The impact he’s had on college basketball and what it means to him and the way he can articulate his views and what he’s all about, I think it’s really great for the A-10.”
Grant told one of his favorite Martin stories during an interview for the new A-10 podcast on the field Field of 68 podcast network. Grant started his coaching career as an assistant varsity coach at his alma mater, and Martin was the JV coach at the time. Grant said he and Shakey Rodriguez, the head coach, would prepare for their game and then come out to watch Martin coach.
“We wouldn’t tell Frank this,” Grant said, “but secretly we hoped that his players wouldn’t play with great intensity in the first half because it would make for an entertaining halftime speech. There were several times we snuck in early, went to the locker room and left the door open just to hear the barking that would go on. Sure enough, anytime that happened, his team would come out and win by 40 in the second half.”
While Grant’s team was named the preseason favorite to win the A-10 on Thursday, UMass was picked to finish eighth. That’s another reason Martin ended up talking so much about Grant. The Flyers were a popular topic of conversation.
“I know who he is,” Martin said. “I know his core values. Our first day in high school together, we were sitting in an English class, and we’re both two little kids who knew nothing about nothing. He’s incredible.”
Martin praised the resiliency of Grant. He said there was a negative cloud over Grant during his time at Alabama “for whatever reason,” and it hurt Grant’s spirit. He said he’s ecstatic to see Grant find success at his alma mater.
“I say this all the time,” Martin said, “and he will probably not be happy that I say it publicly but he was our star player in high school, and what made him great is he was a star teammate — not just how good he was as a player. I go to college, and my first college paper ever was about him. That’s how impactful he was. I utilize him as a sounding board for a lot of my decisions. When you see him, you see a certain peace and serenity, but his fire on the inside burns as bright as anybody’s. His competitive juices are unbelievable. So I reach out to him a lot to help me find peace as I kind of deal with the job.”
Like Grant, Martin doesn’t look forward to coaching against his friend.
“I can’t stand the fact that we play each other,” Martin said. “Andy Kennedy (of UAB) has a way of scheduling. He says, ‘I like scheduling my friends because when the game is over, at least I know a good guy won.’ I’m the other way. When the game ends if I win, if our team wins, I struggle enjoying the moment because I know what the other guy’s going through because I know him as a person. And if we lose, I’m miserable because I don’t like losing. So it’s a difficult moment, especially with someone like him who’s more like a brother than he is a peer.”
DAYTON SEASON PREVIEW
Part 1: Fans dreaming big as always
Part 2: A-10 changes tournament format for first time in years
Part 3: A familiar face returns to A-10
Part 4: KenPom.com’s math likes the Flyers
Part 5: Three new walk-ons join roster
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