Shaka Smart, Head Coach of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Wisconsin native has his squad dancing to their first ever Final Four.
The mastermind behind 2011’s Cinderella team hails from Fitchburg (a small city outside of Madison) and is one of the hottest up-and-comers in all of the NCAA.
By: Nick Grays
It all started at Oregon High School (10 miles outside of Madison) where Smart became the all-time leader in assists for a career (458), season (201) and a single game (20). He would go on to play his college ball at Kenyon College in Akron, Ohio despite receiving offers from prestigious schools like Princeton and Yale.
Fresh out of college, Smart entered the coaching field right away by grabbing a job at the University of California in Pennsylvania in 1999 where he also earned his Master’s degree. Next, Smart served as the Director of Basketball Operations at Dayton and then served as a coaching assistant at Akron (2003-06), Clemson (2006-08) and Florida (2008-09).
Smart is currently the 33-year-old Head Coach of the surprising VCU Rams who are on their way to Houston to take on another surprise in the Brad Stevens (34 years of age) led Butler Bulldogs.
Smart and Stevens are a class of new and young coaches who shot up the ranks of coaching assistants and are now leading two of the most prominent mid-majors in the country.
Success is nothing new to Smart who led this same VCU team to a CBI championship during the 2009-10 season. While it in no way compares to a Final Four appearance, Shaka knew it was a stepping stone to what they are doing now.
“That was a great run, but this is a whole different universe. And for us to win five games and make the Final Four, again, I think it says everything about our team,” said Smart following his team’s Elite Eight victory over #1-seeded Kansas.
“We went through some adversity this year as most teams did. We weren’t 35-2 coming into this game, but we’re playing our best basketball when it matters most, and that’s why I’m sitting up here right now with a net around my neck.”
One of the reasons Shaka has been able to move up the ranks so fast is his uncanny ability to remain calm and collected during pressure situations.
“It’s just a game. When you’re able to win some games people make a big deal out of it. We put a lot into it, so it’s a big deal to us. Basketball coaching is not who I am, it’s just what I do. And fortunately things are going really well for us right now,” said Smart.
“But if you’re able to step back and understand there’s something even beneath all of that, all of that success, then you realize for you and for your coaching staff and for your players, all you can do is go out there and do your best.”
“One of my favorite books is called The Four Agreements. One of them says do your best. And if you do that, let the chips fall where they may.” said Smart.
“And that’s what we did. And we made history here, winning five games, going to the Final Four, and as I said out there on the floor, we’re not done yet.”
Like Shaka said, the #11-seeded Rams have won five games by upsetting USC, #6 Georgetown, #3 Purdue, #10 Florida State and #1 Kansas.
Can Smart lead his team to two more wins and quite possibly one of the greatest sports stories of all-time?
We will find out in Houston and one thing is for sure, the entire state of Wisconsin is proud of one of the state’s brightest basketball minds.
Do you think VCU can finish the memorable run they’ve started? What do you think of Shaka Smart? Let me know by commenting below!
Nick Grays is a senior editor at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Brewers. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best.Follow paulmbanks