COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH/AP) -- South Carolina's first-year coach Frank Martin has been prepping for his Southeastern Conference debut since growing up in south Florida.
The Miami native remembers making the trip to Florida's O'Connell Center several times to watch SEC games and was awed by the league's athletes and coaches.
"I've always been amazed at how athletic the SEC is. The amount of athletic players, the amounts of big-time players. I see a league with a lot of good coaches," said Martin. "When you coach in a league like the SEC, everything you do with your team from that first day you show up in August to the season end should be organized around getting your team ready to compete in league play."
Martin will again get an up-close look at the SEC starting Wednesday night when the Gamecocks (10-3) travel to face Mississippi State (5-7) and its first-year coach Rick Ray.
Martin has been part of top-tier leagues before, coming to South Carolina last March after five successful seasons in the Big 12 Conference with Kansas State. What Martin has seen so far tells him the talent and coaches in the SEC are strong as they are in the Big 12.
However, the SEC goes in to league play this week with a losing record against the other five major conferences, as opposed to last year when it produced the national champion in Kentucky and had the most NBA draft picks of any league.
SEC teams are 3-6 against the ACC, 2-5 against the Big 12, 2-4 against the Big Ten, 4-13 against the Big East and 4-5 against the Pac-12. SEC teams also just 3-11 against the Top 25.
The league is now stocked with new players and several new coaches trying to find their way, but, Martin sees the league proving its worth by the end of the season.
"The SEC is a lot like the Big 12 where you've got just magnificent players and very, very good coaches and our league is in a little bit of a transition right now," said Martin. "Give it time. As this season progresses, I think you'll see the league will be real good by the end of the year."