By the time Frank Martin got to the podium after South Carolina's 77-70 win over Florida, water had soaked through his white button-down shirt. His undershirt was visible. His stocky frame was exposed, making him look like a Miami nightclub bouncer.
Of course, that is what Martin was once upon a time, among other things. "Final Four head coach" is actually pretty boring on Martin's résumé.
Start with Martin's upbringing. He was born to Cuban refugees in Miami in 1966. Shortly after his Gamecocks won the NCAA East regional Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Martin dove into a story going back two generations.
"They told my grandma: You got to leave your house now," recalls Martin, the only Hispanic head coach in Division I basketball. "And you're going to this country where you don't speak their language. And you got to go sew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and figure it out. She lost her husband to a heart attack, so now she was left with my mom and my uncle as teenagers, didn't speak a lick of English. Somehow, some way, here I am today. All because of her courage. So, you know, it's just a lot of stuff, man. A lot of stuff right now. But you can't lose your dream."
Starting at age 12, Martin undertook an array of odd jobs. He worked at a Dairy Queen and was a change boy in a billiards hall. He was a dishwasher, a busboy, a waiter, a short-order cook and a bartender.
He held two jobs while majoring in physical education at Florida International: He was an assistant coach at Miami Senior High School and a bouncer at a nightclub called Stefano's (while being available for other freelance bouncing jobs).
"When I chose to follow the path of bouncer, the reason for it, No. 1, it was good money," Martin told ESPN's Myron Medcalf in 2014. "No. 2, it fit my schedule. I was going to school during the day, coaching basketball late afternoon and then [I'd] go bounce at night. You slept in between wherever you can."
Martin's career as a bouncer ended in 1992. A group of men Martin had kicked out returned to the club at 2:30 a.m. and fired gunshots at him.
"It was one of those moments that kind of made me think about what I was doing for a living," Martin told The New York Times in 2010.
Martin quit his job as a bouncer and focused on his education and job as a basketball coach. The grind paid off. At 27 -- upon earning his college degree -- Martin got his first head coaching job at North Miami High School. Two seasons, later, he was returned to Miami Senior, this time as head coach. During the next three seasons, from 1995-1998, Martin won three state titles with players that included future NBA stars Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake.
But the 1998 state championship was vacated due to recruiting violations. Certain players had allegedly received housing assistance from school employees and boosters.
Martin isn't over the blemish.
"I was a part of an unfortunate situation, coaching high school basketball," he said Sunday. "And it was under my watch. I still to this day say we were not guilty, but I was responsible for that situation. And I lost my job."
Wearing a scarlet letter in the Miami high school community, Martin turned to college. He contacted as many NCAA coaches as he could. One responded.
"I wrote 120, 140 letters to coaches around the country," Martin said on The Dan Patrick Show last Thursday. "One guy sent me a hand-written note back. It was Coach K. And I didn't even know him back then. He knew who I was because I was part of a very successful high school team, but all that kind of all lumped into that one moment there."
Mike Krzyzewski did not offer Martin a job. No one did for a year. Finally, Miami's Booker T. Washington High School offered Martin a chance to return to the bench for the 1999-2000 season. That led to another break the next year, as Northeastern head coach Rudy Keeling offered Martin a job as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for Northeastern. Martin left Miami, where he had spent his whole life, for a new experience in Boston.
Martin spent five years at Northeastern. The Huskies didn't even make an NIT. But Bob Huggins took note, and he brought Martin to Cincinnati, where Martin served as an assistant for two years -- one under Huggins and one under Andy Kennedy. When Huggins was hired at Kansas State in 2006, he brought Martin with him. After one season, Huggins jumped to his alma mater, West Virginia but left most of his coaching staff behind. The Wildcats named Martin as Huggins' successor, and Huggins gave his full confidence in his protégé.
"When Huggs got the West Virginia job, he could have done what every other coach in America would have done," Martin said Sunday. "He could have taken the other assistants with him. That means that Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen, Michael Beasley, all those guys would have gone with him to West Virginia. And instead he huddled all the coaches up and he said, 'It's Frank's turn. I'll be OK.' And he made sure that we stayed together."
Kansas State hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1996. Martin led the Wildcats to four trips in five seasons, before leaving for South Carolina. He brought his accountability to Columbia.
"We were winning at Kansas State," Martin remembers. "And when I walked in and I said, 'I'm thinking of doing this.' Those families, man, I become responsible for their children, it's part of my job. And they all said, 'Frank, if that's what you think we need to do, we're in.' And I'm just telling you, I'm the luckiest dude on the planet. The people that are put in my life daily are just incredible."
South Carolina was a complete rebuilding job. Martin won four conference games in 2012-13, five in 2013-14 and six in 2014-15. He made the NIT in 2015-16.
And then came this magical season. South Carolina startied 8-0 and peaked at No. 16 in the country in December. The Gamecocks went 22-10, reaching the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed. Martin's five-year project was a success. He built a tournament team. Anything else in 2017 March Madness was a bonus.
But when you're Frank Martin and you've been defying odds your whole life, you don't ever feel complacent.
"When we weren't good enough to win, they never threw in the towel," Martin says. "We have a little saying that we started this year and we were, kind of when we were scrambling a little bit, and in late January, early February, and I said to our guys, 'Have you guys ever been in a tug of war?' Some of them said yes, some said no. I said, 'Well, if you haven't, this is how it works. And you have two groups of people and they're both pulling in opposite directions. If one person on one side let's go of the rope, it's bad. I don't care how hard it is, you can't let go of the rope or your team's going to lose.'
"So we started saying, we're in a difficult moment right now, hold on to that rope, don't let that rope go. I don't care how hard it gets, don't let that rope go. And our guys are fully invested in it."
South Carolina is still holding onto that rope. Next week, they'll be in Phoenix at the Final Four with Gonzaga, Oregon and North Carolina. As a seventh seed, the Gamecocks will be out of place as the party crasher, which is nothing new to them. It's nothing new for their coach.
"Coach didn't promise us anything, but he did promise us that if we had faith in him and we listened to what he had to say, and we did what he had to say, we did what he said to do, that we would be successful here and it shows," sophomore PJ Dozier said Sunday.
Little has ever been promised to Frank Martin. But he's always been persistent. That's what he could promise to his team. They believed and now, they are going to the Final Four.
After all, his wife knows about that persistence.
Frank Martin: "My wife turned me down 7 times to go out on a date. The day she made mistake of going on a date with me, I never let her go."
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) March 26, 2017
Now they're pulling the rope to Phoenix.