He quotes Shakespeare in one breath and bear crawls through Navy
SEAL training the next. He placidly reads from Sun Tzu before
imploring his players to wreak havoc. The scholarly 35-year-old
coach of the VCU Men’s Basketball team could’ve been a
history professor, but chose to make history instead.
Shaka Smart is just…different.
The way he’s directed the Rams through three wildly successful seasons has been, at a minimum, entertaining. Whip-smart and driven, he’s already led VCU to 84 victories, the first Final Four in school history, and established program marks for single-season wins, twice.
His “Havoc” style of play – a high-octane platform marked by full-court pressure and transition offense - has turned heads for its effectiveness (.750 winning percentage) and watchability (18 straight sellouts, school records for televised games). His methods are also worthy of attention. At the Final Four in Houston in 2011, Smart grabbed headlines for participating in the “Iron Man” drill at practice. The last two years, he’s also joined his players and staff in a week of grueling Navy SEAL training.
It’s safe to say that Smart’s vision for running a program is a good one. In 2011-12, he shrugged off the graduation of four of the five leading scorers from VCU’s Final Four team and led the Rams to a conference championship and the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams finished 29-7 last season, the most wins ever by a VCU team.
Meanwhile, Havoc was better than ever. The Rams led the country in turnover margin (+17.9), opponent turnover rate (27.9 percent) and steals per game (10.6). VCU’s 381 total steals shattered the Colonial Athletic Association single-season record, and the Rams held 17 opponents under 60 points, a program best.
Behind his direction, the Rams marched through the CAA regular season with a 15-3 mark and swept through the league tournament on the way to VCU’s fourth conference championship since 2004. Smart eventually steered the 12th-seeded Rams to a Round of 64 win over fifth-seeded Wichita State and a near-upset of storied Indiana. It was a heck of an encore for an unforgettable 2010-11 season.
Just a year earlier, Smart and VCU turned college basketball on its ear with a stunning run from the First Four to the Final Four.
|The Shaka Smart File
The 11th-seeded Rams scored a series of NCAA Tournament upsets,
five in all, to reach the Final Four for the first time in school
history. Many have called it the greatest run to the Final Four
ever. Along the way, VCU dispatched “BCS Conference”
schools Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and
finally, mighty Kansas, the Southwest Region’s No. 1 seed.
The Rams’ 71-61 victory over the Jayhawks sent shockwaves
through the sports world. It was later named the “Best
Upset” of 2011 at ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards.
Along the way, VCU tied a school-record with 28 wins, while Smart received the Fritz Pollard and Gaines Adams National Coach of the Year Awards. The Rams finished the year ranked sixth in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the highest in school and conference history.
VCU’s 2010-11 season was so incredible it managed to completely overshadowed Smart’s 27-win, CBI Championship season in 2009-10. That squad produced Larry Sanders, who was selected 15th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, the highest ever from VCU or the Colonial Athletic Association.
Smart’s Havoc philosophy took shape while working with notable coaches Billy Donovan (Florida), Oliver Purnell (Clemson, Dayton) and Keith Dambrot (Akron) early in his career and is clearly paying dividends at VCU.
Smart was introduced as VCU’s 10th head coach on April 2, 2009, and two years to the day later, Smart led the Rams onto floor at Reliant Stadium, in front of a crowd of more than 75,000 for a Final Four matchup with Butler.
“Through the vetting process of hiring someone to lead our program, we spoke with some of the nation’s top head and assistant coaches, men who came highly recommended from the biggest names in college basketball,” said then-VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague. “Shaka stood out amongst all of them. In Shaka, we have found someone who we knew without a shadow of a doubt could continue the excellence established by VCU Basketball.”
Smart didn’t just continue that excellence. He broke the
Known as a high-caliber recruiter, Smart has lived up to his billing with the Black and Gold, landing three consecutive highly-touted recruiting classes. His most recent foray included the signings of a pair of top-100 recruits in Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess. Smart’s recruiting classes have gained national attention from ESPN.com, Scout.com and Rivals.com.
Prior to his arrival at VCU, Smart spent one season as an assistant with Donovan’s Florida Gators. He helped lead the program to a 25-11 season, the fifth-most wins in school history, and a berth in the NIT Quarterfinals.
Before Florida, Smart served as an assistant coach under Purnell
at Clemson from 2006-08. During his tenure, Smart helped the Tigers
to 49 wins and consecutive postseason appearances, including an
NCAA Tournament berth in 2008.
Smart had a positive effect on Clemson in his first year, aiding the Tigers’ 25-11 record and NIT Championship game appearance. The 25 victories and 17-0 start tied 20-year old Clemson records. The Tigers appeared in the top 25 of the USA Today coaches’ poll for eight consecutive weeks.
Additionally, Smart played a significant role in the Tigers’ landing of top 100 recruits Catalin Baciu, Terrence Oglesby and Milton Jennings. While at Florida, he helped the Gators land the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com, including McDonald’s All-American guard Kenny Boynton.
From 2003-06, Smart served as an assistant at the University of Akron. In 2005-06, he helped the Zips to a 23-10 record, the school’s highest victory total since it became a Division I program in 1980-81.
The Zips also defeated Temple in the first round of the NIT for the school’s first Division I postseason triumph. In two seasons working under Dambrot, Smart helped Akron to a 42-20 record.
Smart worked for Purnell at Dayton as director of basketball operations from 2001-03. During that time, the Flyers posted a 45-17 record and won the 2003 Atlantic 10 Championship. The 2002-03 squad finished 24-6 and earned an NCAA bid.
Smart began his coaching career as an assistant at California University (Pa.) from 1999-2001. The school had a 40-16 combined ledger those two seasons. During that time, Smart earned his master’s degree in social science.
Smart played his college basketball at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and graduated magna cum laude in 1999 with a degree in history. A four-year starter and three-year captain, he holds Kenyon single-season (184) and career (542) assist marks. As a senior, he was an All-North Coast Conference selection and was the NCAC Scholar Athlete of the Year. He was one of 20 students selected for the 1999 USA Today All-USA Academic team and received a NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
A native of Madison, Wis., Smart married the former Maya Payne on May 20, 2006. The couple welcomed their first child, daughter Zora Sanae Smart, on Sept. 25, 2011.