One of college basketball’s brightest young minds is now a Longhorn, as Texas formally introduced Shaka Smart as the 24th head coach in program history on Friday. Smart, who amassed a 163-56 record and one Final Four appearance in six years as head coach at VCU, will be looked at to turn around a program that has not made it out of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament since 2008, a challenge not lost on the newly-minted head coach. “There’s been a great deal of success here, and I feel like my role is to try and build on that success,” said Smart, behind a backdrop of burnt orange. “Obviously it takes a committed, connected effort to do that between coaches and players, and that’s what we’ve done the past six years at VCU, and that’s what we plan to do here moving forward.”
Smart’s six years at VCU saw both he and the program rise from relative obscurity and into the national spotlight behind a tough, rugged, and fast-paced system of basketball effectively termed “Havoc.” Behind their unique style of play and charismatic coach, VCU would go on to capture the sporting world’s attention in 2011 when they reached the Final Four, and since manged to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since under Smart’s helm.
That same style of play that put Smart and VCU on the map is also one the coach looks to bring with him as he embarks on his new journey. “We’re going to play fast-paced basketball, we’re going to be very aggressive,” Smart told reporters. “I can tell you right now, that when you come to the Irvin Center to see us play, you’re going to see an exciting style of basketball.”
Despite the number of NBA players who played at Texas under former coach Rick Barnes, Texas never quite managed to correlate that success on the recruiting trail into sustained on-court success or consistent deep tourney runs. Which is another reason why Smart was such a shrewd hire, as nobody has been more adept at doing more with less over the past six seasons than him. “I couldn’t be more excited about the future of Texas men’s basketball,” remarked athletic director Steve Patterson. “Shaka is the only person we interviewed.”
Which is why that committed, connected effort he touched on in his introductory press conference is so important to just who Smart is. There are probably less than a handful of coaches in college basketball right now, that have the ability to convince players to commit wholeheartedly into the concept of a team like Smart. Whereas the argument could be made that Rick Barnes underachieved with the talent he had at Texas, no one would argue that Smart did not maximize everything thing he had at his disposal to turn VCU into the program it is today. Imagine the havoc Smart could cause with access to the Big 12’s recruiting pipeline, as well as the richest athletic department in the country at this disposal.
Certainly you’ve got to feel for VCU or any university whenever they lose a coach so ingrained into the university’s culture as Smart was, but eventually this day was coming for the most in-demand young coach in the country. The Shaka Smart era in Texas officially began Friday, with the excitement surrounding Longhorn nation matched only by that of the new head basketball coach himself. “The exciting thing for me is I think we can do phenomenal things moving forward if we work together, we work hard, and forgive the pun, work smart.”