Erik Spoelstra: Heat ‘tend to like Frank Martin players’ … just look at Udonis Haslem, Rodney McGruder

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin motions to players during the first half of the East Regional championship game against Florida in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 26, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Frank Martin’s players seem to fit with the Heat.

Just take a look at Udonis Haslem and Rodney McGruder. Haslem was coached by Martin at Miami High on the high school level, and McGruder was coached by Martin at Kansas State on the college level.

“We tend to like Frank Martin players,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They have the type of grit and the DNA and the toughness that we like.”

That grit and toughness has become a big part of South Carolina’s identity on their incredible NCAA Tournament run to the Final Four. Martin, who is now the Gamecocks’ head coach, has helped lead South Carolina to its first Final Four appearance in program history.

South Carolina defeated Florida — Haslem’s alma mater — on Sunday to get to the Final Four. With obvious ties to both teams, Haslem said he was “very neutral” when watching the game.

“He’s just real. He brings it to you,” Haslem said when asked why Martin seems to always get the most out of his roster. “It’s not for everybody. Everybody can’t play for him, everybody can’t handle it. But if you allow him to be honest with you then you’ll find yourself being a better person and better man. A lot of people don’t want to hear the truth. A lot of people hide from the truth, even in the NBA.”

Martin, who is a first generation Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, is known for his fiery coaching style. He gets in his players’ faces and stays on top of the referees during games.

But behind the scenes, Haslem said Martin plays an important role for his players. Haslem called Martin one of the most influential people in his life.

“Every few years, you only come across a few people in your life that actually have an impact on your life for the rest of your life,” Haslem said. “Frank is one of those guys. It’s not just for me. I’ve seen what he’s done for other guys that I’ve played with. Kids in difficult situations at home, struggling academically, struggling socially, he’s one of those people that every so many years that you meet somebody that actually has an impact on you that will last forever.”

And it’s not a coincidence that Martin’s players — like Haslem and McGruder — usually turn into above average defenders. Similar to the Heat, Martin emphasizes a defensive mentality.

South Carolina ranks 15th nationally in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 39.8 percent shooting this season.

“You can’t play for Frank if you can’t play defense and if you don’t play hard,” Haslem said. “I watch the way those guys from South Carolina go out there and they compete, and the level that they play at, and how physical they are. You can’t play for Frank if you’re not physical, if you don’t play defense and if you don’t have that mentality. That’s the same thing [the Miami Heat] try to be. We try to be physical, we try to have a defensive mentality and be the most physical team.”

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