Shaka Smart leaves VCU for the big stage of Texas
- Updated: April 4, 2015
Virginia Commonwealth University has been a program on a successful role the last few years. Head coach Shaka Smart consistently gets the most out of the kids that he recruited to fit his system. And they have blessed him with putting the Rams on the map and consistently hovering around the Top 25. Over the years, it seemed like Smart was waiting patiently on the right opportunity. Year after year, he kept turning down job after job. And as he continued to turn down opportunities, it was wondered by some if he envisioned himself retiring there some day. Well, those questions got answered this week when he was tapped as the replacement for fired coach Rick Barnes. And when Texas put the full-court press on Smart, he eventually accepted the charge to be the next head coach of the Texas basketball team. And with that, Shaka is now on the grand stage among coaches like Kansas’s Bill Self. The Rams were always a terror in every league they were in. Shaka’s style fit his team to a tee and he knew just what buttons to push. But Shaka is now in a new place and presented with a new program to figure out. The question remains what challenges lie ahead for him in this mission?
Shaka is definitely a smart coach and he can always figure out a few things via in-game adjustments. But what will be interesting is the squad that he has to grow with next season. Shaka has always implanted pressure from his teams. And the pressure that he requires asks for players to be active, alert and willing to leave it all on the court. Smart has also always had that one player undersized power forward that was active and versatile. Looking at the Texas roster, they do have some big guys coming back next season, but they do not have that one guy that can cause havoc and is a tweener. For Shaka, he must get that guy to Texas. If he is not able to, then he is going to have to adjust his style and that may not be best for what he likes to do. The one good thing about Shaka moving to Texas is he has a broader pool of basketball players to pull from. And with that broader pool, he will have more choices as to who to get and who to let slide. More than likely he can find a guy that he is looking for but more talented than what he has had at VCU. A player the likes of former Texas forward Damion James would be perfect for what Smart wants to do, but of course he used up all his eligibility there a while ago.
Another thing that will be interesting to see is how Shaka handles the pressure that will be on him in Texas. Sometimes small-school coaches that head to bigger schools do not have the best of luck. For example, Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn was thought to be a hot commodity before he was hired by the South Carolina Gamecocks. Some believed he was destined for success, but he crumbled under the pressure and only mustered up a 60-63 record when he stepped up to coach South Carolina in the SEC. The same could happen to Smart, although it seems highly unlikely at this time. But with a bigger budget and more access to players he could probably have never seen, the expectation has risen. As shown by former coach Rick Barnes, wins will not be enough to keep this job. Rick Barnes took his Texas teams to the playoffs 16 of his 17 years at Texas. Smart will be entrusted to take this team to the next level under his leadership. And by next level, the Longhorns are looking to bring a national title in basketball. The spotlight will be hotter there than he has ever had to face before. If he wins and wins at a high clip, Smart has to realize they would like a title to go along with the winning. If not, then Smart could be on his way out as well, just like former coach Rick Barnes.
In Shaka, the Texas Longhorns have themselves a young, energetic coach that can identify with players a little more and could be there a long time. The question hovering around him now is can he take the team to a new level or not. Smart is young enough and energetic enough to get this team going in the right direction. And the best thing for Shaka is they have a bigger budget and also a bigger pool to draw from to field his team. It should be interesting to see what kind of players he brings in along with what he is able to do with the current players on the roster that decide to stay. The Longhorns were lacking sizzle with Barnes still there. The sizzle seems to be back with Smart in the fold.