No one could possibly believed this year's South Carolina team could possibly make the Final Four until it actually happened. The Gamecocks entered the tournament having lost six of their last nine games. They had zero March Madness experience, and their program had no pedigree. And they had title favorite Duke waiting for them in the second round.
The key to understanding South Carolina's run is to look at their coach, whose own rise to mainstream stardom never could have been predicted or understood until it played out in real life.
Frank Martin is the son of Cuban immigrants who worked as a bouncer to make ends meet as a young coach. That experience inspired him to pursue basketball full-time.
He didn't take no for an answer from his wife. Seven times.
That perseverance served Martin well in his career. He turned an extended run as the JV coach at Miami High School into the head job at North Miami and later at Miami, where he built a South Florida powerhouse. A scandal in which Martin was not personally implicated forced him out at Miami and, after a short stint at Booker T. Washington, he was off to an assistant gig at Northeastern. He was 34 and had never lived outside of South Florida to that point.
After five seasons on staff he landed an assistant job with Bob Huggins at Cincinnati. Martin followed Huggins to Kansas State and took over as head coach in 2007. After trips to the NCAA Tournament in five seasons -- including an Elite Eight berth in 2010 -- Martin left for South Carolina in 2012. South Carolina won 14 games in each of Martin's first two seasons, then climbed above .500 with a 17-16 mark in 2015. The Gamecocks reached the NIT last season and are now in the midst of one of the most improbable Final Four runs ever.
"Anyone that's in sports dreams of moments like this,” Martin said Sunday, via USA Today. "It's not something that you start dreaming the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day. And the thing is, you have to work toward getting better every day, not getting wrapped up on good and bad and losses and wins."
After dispatching Florida 77-70 to reach South Carolina's first Final Four, Martin summed up his rise from the Miami high school ranks to the biggest stage in amateur basketball in what can be described as a grinder's anthem.
MUST WATCH: Frank Martin (South Carolina Men's Basketball Coach) on his Coaching Career, Adversity, and his Upbringing - pic.twitter.com/EHs0iH6lqS
— Brandon Chambers (@chambershoops) March 27, 2017