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 37-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 Shaka Smart File
|As an Assistant Coach|
|1999-00||California Univ. (Pa.), Asst. Coach||23-7|
|2000-01||California Univ. (Pa.), Asst. Coach||23-6|
|2001-03||University of Dayton||21-11|
|2002-03||University of Dayton||24-6|
|2003-04||University of Akron||13-15|
|2004-05||University of Akron||19-10|
|2005-06||University of Akron||23-10|
|2008-09||University of Florida||25-11|
|As A Head Coach|
The way he’s directed the Rams through five of the best
years in VCU history has been, at a minimum, entertaining.
Whip-smart and driven, he’s already led VCU to 137 victories
(tied for the second most by any Division I coach through his first
five years), the first Final Four in school history, and
established program marks for single-season wins,
His “Havoc” style of play – a high-octane platform marked by full-court pressure and transition offense - has turned heads for its effectiveness (.749 winning percentage) and watchability (50 straight sellouts, over 90 national TV games in past three years). 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. VCU enters the 2014-15 season as one of just three schools with at least 26 wins in each of the past five seasons, joining Duke and Syracuse. Last year, he guided the Rams to a 26-9 mark and a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Meanwhile, Havoc is better than ever. The Rams have led the country in steals per game in each of the last three seasons, while being near the top in turnover margin and opponent turnover rate as well. Smart has led his teams to three Top-25 finishes since his arrival, whereas VCU had just one before his arrival.
As Havoc continues to be wrought throughout the college basketball world, more young players are lining up to be a part of it. Smart has proven to be a high-caliber recruiter and an excellent talent evaluator. VCU’s incoming freshman class ranks as the 14th-best in the country, the highest-rated recruiting class in the history of the program.
In 2012-13, VCU’s 422 total steals shattered the Atlantic 10 single-season mark of 352 set by Xavier’s 1998-99 squad. The 422 steals is the 18th most in NCAA Division I basketball history. Last season, the Rams led all teams yet again in steals with 391, 21 more than any other team.
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.
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 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 Clarence Gaines 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 overshadow 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 selection from VCU.
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.
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.
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.
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.