It’s the name the nation correlates with “havoc” and the name that VCU basketball fans, or not, respect: Shaka Smart.
Rising to be the second youngest coach to win 100 games is only one of the many achievements Smart has earned. Scoring nearly perfect on his SATs, Smart was accepted to several Ivy League schools and chose to attend Kenyon College. From there Smart landed assistant coaching jobs with the Akron Zips, Florida Gators and with the Clemson Tigers. VCU reeled in this star in 2009 when he accepted the position as head coach for the Rams.
VCU’s basketball program has been on an upward climb ever since, some would say, head coach J.D. Barnett in the late 70s and early 80s. Barnett led VCU to their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and had five overall appearances in the tournament while coaching the Rams. Since then VCU has had strong coaches such as Anthony Grant, who accepted a position as head coach at the University of Alabama in 2009 and opened the door for Smart.
In March of this year Smart gave VCU fans yet another reason to trust and support him as he turned down an offer to coach at UCLA. Smart agreed on a contract that extends through 2023 and in which he receives a yearly $1.5 million.
In addition to his attention on his own well-being, Smart makes a point to be sure his team, both staff and players, are compensated appropriately as well. Smart looks out for his staff’s salaries in addition to ensuring his team has healthy meal plans and safe, comfortable traveling amenities.
Although these aspects may seem trivial to some, Smart’s selfless, positive attitude is one of the reasons he is so successful. When prospective players who are considering many schools visit VCU they are greeted with Smart’s warm smile and his kind character. It’s not a reach to say that the three class of 2014 commits (one of which is top-50 ranked) chose VCU because of the positive family atmosphere Smart maintains.
Personality aside, Smart’s coaching style is another reason the team has repeatedly been so successful. Smart is patient with his players and isn’t one to hold onto past mistakes. Many coaches who harp on the negative of the past kill the motivation of their players.
Smart, although serious on the court, seems to always pull out a smile when it’s most needed and stays calm, cool and collected through the ups and downs of the game. Smart motivates his players both on and off the court with his idea that excellence is key. Demanding educational excellence seems to create a ripple effect with his players on the court as well. We have seen this in their amount of relentless energy and speed.
As the season gets underway, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Smart’s name show up on top of national coach rankings.