Frank Martin: ‘Trust’ was key for South Carolina to upset No. 14 Mississippi State
Hassani Gravett is already four made 3-pointers away from his most in a single South Carolina season. He’s four steals away from a similar accomplishment. He’s shooting over 47 percent from the field, 40 from 3 and 80 from the free throw line, numbers that are better than Frank Booker’s senior year.
But that’s not how Frank Martin will illustrate to you what’s different about Gravett this winter. The USC coach takes you to Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida. It’s late, the Gamecocks and Gators are in a tight battle on SEC opening night and Gravett, among a rowdy bunch of 10,000 spectators clad in blue and orange, is plugged into the UF bench. He takes a mental note and runs to report it to the Carolina sideline.
“Their coach just called 13,” Gravett told Martin, a reference to UF’s 1-3-1 defense.
The USC coach was shocked — not by the Gators’ strategy, but by who revealed it to him.
“Never in his wildest dreams had he ever come close to doing anything like that,” Martin said earlier this week. “That’s because his mind is more connected with everything we’re trying to do, so he’s more engaged mentally.”
The Gamecocks (7-7 overall) have a chance to go 3-0 in the SEC for the second time in three years when Missouri (9-4, 0-1) comes to Colonial Life Arena on Saturday. Tip time is 1 p.m.
It’s been a surprise start to January for Carolina after several setbacks in nonconference play seemingly lowered expectations for a team already pegged to finish 11th in the SEC. But after upsets of Florida and No. 14 Mississippi State, USC is working to change the narrative.
That parallels Gravett’s career. He was viewed last year as more of the problem than the solution. Having to play point guard because of unexpected attrition at the position, Gravett struggled as Carolina missed the postseason a season after making the Final Four.
“You guys that cover our team,” Martin told reporters in Gainesville, “you know me and he, we’ve had our roller coaster ride.”
But when Gravett returned for his senior season, he was joined on the roster by Georgetown transfer Tre Campbell and freshmen A.J. Lawson and T.J. Moss. Point guard was going to be handled by that trio, allowing Gravett to slide over in the backcourt.
The two-guard was his natural position. It’s allowed him to not only improve his on-court numbers — points, shooting percentages and rebounds are up while turnovers are down — but be more comfortable in his role off it.
When Keyshawn Bryant was frustrated with himself after seven early turnovers at Florida, it was Gravett who calmed the rookie down.
“I’m not to going to say what he said — I’ll keep that between him and me — but he’s like another coach to me,” said Bryant, who carried on with a clutch six-point scoring spree. “He keeps me going. If I’m down, he’s going to pick me up whenever I need him to.”
The leadership hasn’t been lost on Martin.
“Hassani, believe it or not, has been really good there,” Martin said.
Gravett’s 22 points against the Gators were his most against an SEC team. He followed with 17 points and seven rebounds against Mississippi State.
“With the experience of being in the system for the time that I’ve been here, you kind of learn and pick up some things and learn how to overcome, when you do mess up, hearing the coaches criticize you,” Gravett said. “You just take it as constructive criticism and keep playing.”
Around 7 Thursday morning, 32 hours after MSU and 54 hours before Missouri, Gravett posted to his Instagram story a photo of an empty Carolina Coliseum and then a shot tracker that showed over 800 attempts.
“He’s learned how to work on his game a little bit,” Martin said. “He’s no longer the last guy on the floor and the first one off. He’s tired of being a 20 percent 3-point shooter. He’s actually putting in time, so guess what? The ball’s starting to go in for him. All those things connect.
“I hope he keeps doing it, because for this team to be good, we need him to be good.”
Hassani Gravett’s career, by the numbers
Who: Missouri (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at South Carolina (7-7, 2-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network