Shaka Smart is one of the most intriguing figures in all of college basketball. He is just overall one incredibly fun guy. He has created a brand of basketball that has never been seen before. His influence on the young men he coaches, and the institution at which he has done it have been profound. To convince a in immature high school kid to buy into the system he calls Havoc, a system in which their is a commitment to run and dispense all energy on the defensive end takes a unique individual. Guess what, that he is. He really has left a lot to be desired in his four years at VCU. I mean winning a CBI championship, and putting together seven NCAA tournament wins in his four years is really unacceptable. He also made a run to that Final Four thing. In all seriousness, that is one heck of a resume.
In the past decade, VCU has been prone to delivering some high quality coaches. Jeff Capel brought the Rams solid success during his reign in the River City, but he made the ever so wise decision to go to Oklahoma due to the lure of the almighty dollar. But poor Jeff had an extreme lack of success, and was sent packing. Anthony Grant also had solid success at VCU, highlighted by a successful season capped off by Senior guard Eric Maynor delivering the dagger took down the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the tournament. Grant also decided to go for the big bucks and is currently the head coach of the Crimson Tide. It is safe to say that his success has been lacking as well, as he has simply made Alabama an NIT team.
However, it is very safe to say Shaka has had twice the success of the other two combined. As a result, the offers have rolled in, not just from average basketball schools such as Alabama or Oklahoma(no offense to the Tide or Sooners) but from big time programs; including Illinois, NC State, Minnesota, and UCLA. You must have some pretty incredible reasons to turn down opportunities to be a Golden Gopher, one of the most fun mascots in the game, and to turn down an opportunity to coach at one of if not the most storied program in the history of college basketball in Westwood, California.
The first reason Smart does not want to leave is his personal experience. Shaka Smart played point guard at Kenyon College, a small Liberal Arts school in Gambier, Ohio. Go Lords. The significance of his college career is that the coach that recruited Shaka left Kenyon after Shaka’s freshman year. He has told the media that this really hurt him, and he did not know how he could ever do that to a player of his own. That type of thing sticks with you. Through this experience he has demonstrated a level of personal understanding with his players and the promise to not leave them victim to the frantic spinning of the college basketball coaching carousel.
On top of everything else, Shaka is also a father. He and his wife Maya have a one year old daughter. They just moved into a new house, and made very significant renovations to it. The type of renovations that you make when you are certain you are going to be there for a long time.
Lastly, and possibly the most important, is Shaka thinks he can win a National Championship at VCU(There is a reason his last name is Smart). He does not see the BCS conference schools as the only ones having the means to create something special. He has turned VCU from a Cinderella into a 5-seed in less than half a decade. He has taken a school that had never been to the Sweet 16 or the Final Four. This makes you wonder what he is capable of doing in the next 4 years. And you know Shaka believes that he can do some really incredible things.
Smart has turned VCU into one of the most fun teams in the country to watch. Recruits want to play for him because he is fun, he is loose, and he is loyal. Talk about a triple whammy. He has done something completely unthinkable. He has made the Siegel Center one of the best environments in college basketball. He is responsible for VCU winning the best student section in the country award. He is responsible for the 35 straight sellouts. VCU basketball is something special, and one man is responsible for that. Shaka could go somewhere else and have success and make more money. But Shaka is a refreshing exception from today’s society. It is not about the money. It is not about the history. It is about staying loyal. It is about finishing what you started. Shaka is here to stay, and I wait with anticipation to see how he finishes what is already a marvelous career.-Ben Greer