Frank Martin unpacking his vision for UMass basketball program

  • UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin sits in his office Wednesday in the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2022 5:48:22 PM
Modified: 8/25/2022 5:46:40 PM

AMHERST — Frank Martin has almost finished unpacking his office.

Pictures of family, past coaching successes and inspirational figures adorn the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center walls. A Father’s Day card is propped open between his laptop and 2017 Final Four swag.

Some frames, like a print of the Cuban and American flags representing Martin’s heritage, still need a place. Two black trash bags full of basketballs and other items almost block the entryway.

UMass hired Martin to lead its men’s basketball program in March. He started working almost immediately, building his staff and constructing a roster. His family still lived in South Carolina for the past four months. They moved to Amherst less than two weeks ago.

“What gives me peace is leaving work and going home and seeing my children, seeing my wife, going to dinner, going to a movie. That had been taken away from us. I was struggling with finding my peace,” Martin said. “We found a beautiful home. We almost bought a home that didn’t really fit us. But we were going to buy it out of necessity, not because it’s what we wanted. Somehow, we stayed patient, and we found the house that fits what we wanted and what we needed.”

The Martins are settling into their new home much the same way Frank is making the office his. He sips water from an aluminum Miami Dolphins cup. A signed Dan Marino mini helmet encased in glass sits under memorabilia from the 7th Field Artillery Regiment, including a flag. Newly hired assistant coach Derek Kellogg paces the hall with his AirPods in.

Martin thought he had his staff sorted six weeks ago. Then Will Bailey, who followed him from South Carolina, left for Saint Louis.

“They’re paying him a dollar figure that we weren’t paying here, and he made a decision just same way he chose to leave there to go to work for me in South Carolina,” Martin said. “He made a decision to go back to an area that gets them closer to home. I was really happy for Will, and I thought Will was tremendous at what he did here.”

Bailey was the primary recruiter for two of UMass’ incoming freshmen, RJ Luis and Keon Thompson.

“Will’s loyalty and his commitment was great,” Martin said. “Now with that said, it’s late June, late July. The last thing I think I got to do is hire a staff member.”

Martin didn’t plan on doing anything with the staff until he finished moving. Then he and Kellogg began a dialogue. Martin realized Kellogg was open to returning as an assistant. UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford hopped on board.

“It’s a home run,” Martin said. “Anyone that followed his career here as a player, he was a selfless player. His personality, his demeanor, as the point guard created the sacrifice that I’m talking about for everyone on the team. He was willing to come back and be the selfless human being that he is.”

As those pieces fell together, Martin was also putting together a new set of Minutemen almost from scratch. Only three players who saw regular action (five total) returned. In addition to those two freshmen, Martin brought in four-star recruit Tafara Gapare as well as transfers from South Carolina (Wildens Leveque and Tyrone Woodley), Connecticut (Rahsool Diggins), Boston College (Gianni Thompson), Louisville (Matt Cross) and Long Island University (Isaac Kante).

“Failure brought us together. That doesn’t mean we’re failures as human beings,” Martin said. “That just means that we all had some form of failure. So let’s learn from all our experiences and figure out a way to make it work differently this time.”

Many of them were top 100 prospects in high school who didn’t fit with their previous program or followed members of the staff to Amherst. Talent alone won’t make the Minutemen successful, though.

“We all talk about individual talent. That’s awesome. But if individual talent isn’t willing to sacrifice, it don’t work. I don’t care how talented individuals are. If each one of them is unwilling to sacrifice something, it doesn’t work collectively,” Martin said. “That’s the challenge, and it’s my job to get everyone to be willing to sacrifice. It’s my job to make that important.”

Martin takes responsibility for all aspects of the program. If someone comes into his office with a problem, it’s now his problem. He wants to build a structure that other people trust enough so that he can give them freedom inside it. Martin sees himself as a teacher even before a coach, but he hopes he learns just as much.

“One of the greatest quotes I’ve ever heard is you can’t rush a flower. Every flower blooms at its own rate into whatever size it’s destined to become. All you can do is keep watering the flowers. It’s the same thing with players,” Martin said. “My ultimate challenge is I have to help every player just like in the classroom. I didn’t just get to teach the smart ones. I teach them all. When I taught math, if I left 10 of them behind, that was not shame on them. Shame on me. I was the teacher. When I’m teaching, I can’t leave players behind. I have to keep trying to elevate them every single day.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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