August 17, 2010

MORE THAN WORDS

By Chris Kowalczyk

 “When I quote others, I do so in order to express my own ideas more clearly.” –Michel de Montaigne
 
If you ran into Shaka Smart out on the recruiting trail, perhaps between flights or rental cars or in any one of the thousands of gymnasiums he’s visited, you might not immediately peg him as a basketball guy. It’s that stack of pages that might be tucked under his arm or on his lap on the plane that catches your eye.  
 
Upon further inspection, it’s clearly not a dissertation on the advantages of the full court press. Thick as a novel with notes scribbled in the margins, slightly weathered, it resembles a movie script. Although he’s no movie producer, director or studio executive, and those pages aren’t the lost sequel to Ishtar, the document very much tells a story about Shaka Smart.
 
Numbering 108 pages as of August, Smart’s “script” is a compilation of quotes and poems that color his world. Some inspirational, others spiritual, mind-bending or motivational, it’s the product of a daily labor of love, assembled over the course of the last 3 ½ years. Usually once a day, sometimes more, Smart finds and adds a quote to the ever-expanding list on his computer. Every few months, he prints out the updated list and reviews it. The list has grown to the point where Smart admits that it can be a challenge to find new quotes.
 
Smart started the list with a single page while he was an assistant coach at Clemson. When he reads a passage in a book, poem, song or elsewhere that speaks to him emotionally or intellectually, he adds it to the list. It all began with a quote from a John Keats poem, which he calls his favorite.
 
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
 
The genesis of the project was as much personal as it was professional. If he could inspire himself, Smart could more easily inspire others.

“I’ve always been someone that’s been interested in motivation and inspiration,” Said the 33-year-old coach. “Certainly things that other people have said have been very inspirational and motivational to me and to others, so I just started collecting the quotes and putting them all in one place so I could refer back to them and hopefully to inspire and motivate others and myself.”
 
Organized alphabetically by author, it’s a vast compilation of some of history’s most famous words, spoken and written by many of the most important poets, scholars, politicians, authors, spiritual leaders and intellectuals.
 
Shaka Smart shares a few of his favorite quotes

“In order to win, we pay with energy and effort and discipline. If we lose, we pay in disappointment, discontent and lack of fulfillment.”  – Maya Angelou

"Appreciation is the currency of success.” – Maya Smart

"Dwell in possibility.” -- Emily Dickenson

“I thank God for my handicaps, for through them, I have found myself, my work and my God.”  – Helen Keller
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” -- John Keats
It’s a wide-ranging list of ideas from a group of people with nothing – and everything – in common. Famous names like Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Muhammad Ali and Eckhart Tolle make numerous appearances.
 
It should be noted that none of those people were or are basketball coaches. Instead, they were all brilliant thinkers who could artfully craft an idea from simple words.
 
“Everything on that list represents something that I think or I agree with or I sympathized with at one point in my life that defines me,” Smart said. “One of the things about doing this is that you really develop an appreciation for the written and spoken word. I really look up to those people. In my mind, that’s their genius, what they’re able to do with words.”
 
Although Smart admits that he couldn’t possibly memorize the whole list of quotes, much of it is stowed away in his subconscious, waiting for the right trigger to force those words back into action.
 
“It happens several times every day,” he says.
 
There are other benefits as well. When VCU was recruiting current freshman center D.J. Haley, by all accounts an uncommonly cerebral 18-year-old, Smart’s volumes of quotes helped the two men connect intellectually. Haley took a liking to Smart’s encyclopedia of quotes, so the coaching staff began sending the seven-footer high schooler a passage in the mail every day. Eventually, Haley began texting new quotes to Smart.
 
Smart employs his list of quotes in many of his interactions with others, including his staff and his players, although he admits with a sly grin, “I kind of have to ration them a little bit, because guys get tired of hearing them. I try not to force feed them.”
 
When he does use them, it’s always with a purpose. Prior to the summer, Smart left his players with this thought from former statesman Henry Clay.
 
“The time will come when winter will ask what you were doing all summer.”
 
In these internet days, it’s not unusual for coaches to assign someone to run their Twitter account. Smart is not one of them. In addition to updates on his players, Smart uses his account as an opportunity to share the quotes that have touched him and that he hopes will inspire others.
 
“First, we make our habits. Then, our habits make us.” – Charles Noble

 
“Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals.” – James Naismith

 
“To a smile given, many smiles return.” -- John Maxwell

 
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  -- Voltaire

 
The quotes Smart uses project positivity, but offer a reflection of the coach. Basketball isn’t as much about X’s and O’s as it is about people and about the opportunity to self-actualize through the game. Sure, Smart might be able to use motivation to make better basketball players, but at the same time, he knows the game can help him mold them into better people as well.  
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