Shaka Smart Named Texas Basketball Head Coach | Horns Illustrated
AUSTIN, Texas — The leader of a Virginia Commonwealth University program that advanced to the 2011 Final Four and posted at least 26 wins in each of his six seasons at the school, Shaka Smart has been named the 24th head basketball coach at The University of Texas, Men’s Athletics Director Steve Patterson announced Friday. The 37-year-old Smart will be introduced at a Friday news conference on the UT campus.
“I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to be the head men’s basketball coach at The University of Texas,” Smart said. “I’m very appreciative of President Bill Powers and Athletics Director Steve Patterson for believing in me and giving me the chance to work with a tremendous group of young men. Coming to The University of Texas presents an opportunity to be a part of a special community. My highest priority is spending time and developing relationships with our current players, our former players and the young men who will make up the future of Texas Basketball.”
While at VCU (2009-15), Smart posted an overall record of 163-56 (.744) and guided the Rams to five NCAA Tournament appearances. The 163 wins tied him for the second-highest number of total victories during the first six years of a head coaching career in NCAA history. VCU and Duke are the only two programs in the country to have posted at least 26 wins in each of the past six seasons.
VCU is one of only 11 schools in the nation to earn a NCAA Tournament bid in each of the past five years (Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, San Diego State and Wisconsin). During Smart’s tenure, the Rams posted a 27-9 (.750) mark in postseason play and a 33-10 (.767) record in the month of March, including a 7-5 mark in five NCAA Tournament appearances. The Rams’ NCAA appearance this past March marked the first time in school history VCU had advanced to the Big Dance five straight years, and the first time in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia that a Division I basketball program had accomplished that feat.
Prior to Smart’s arrival, the Rams were ranked a total of nine weeks in The Associated Press poll in program history. During his six years, VCU made 22 appearances in The AP Top 25, including three straight rankings in the final AP poll in 2012-13 (No. 25), 2013-14 (No. 24) and 2014-15 (No. 25), a program first.
“Leaving VCU was not an easy decision for me and my family,” Smart said. “I will be eternally grateful to the players at VCU with whom I shared such special experiences. They have taught me so much and changed my life.”
“I’m looking forward to building on the past success of Texas Basketball,” Smart said. “This is a proud program that goes back over 100 years, and I embrace that history. There is tremendous potential in this program, and my job is to work extremely hard to ensure that we realize that potential. I can’t wait to get to work.”
Smart’s style of play during his time at VCU was termed “Havoc.” Simply stated, it was a high-octane platform marked by full-court pressure and transition offense. The Rams led the country in steals per game for three consecutive seasons (2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14) and ranked fourth nationally this past year (9.5 spg). In 2012-13, VCU’s 422 total steals shattered the Atlantic 10 single-season record of 352 set by Xavier in 1998-99. The 422 thefts marked the 18th-highest single-season total in NCAA Division I history. During the 2013-14 season, the Rams registered 391 steals, 21 more than any other squad.
VCU also ranked near the top of the national statistics in turnover margin and opponent turnover rate under Smart’s guidance. The Rams led the nation in turnover margin in 2011-12 (+6.47) and 2012-13 (+8.03) and ranked third nationally (+5.4) during the recent 2014-15 season. VCU’s +8.03 mark in 2012-13 was the sixth-best turnover margin by a NCAA Division I team since the 1992-93 season.
“Havoc” was a hit with the VCU fan base. The Rams concluded the 2014-15 season with a streak of 66 consecutive sellouts at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. That is the fifth-longest active streak in the nation, trailing only Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Gonzaga.
In the classroom, all 12 seniors during the first five seasons under Smart graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree. Three of the 12 went on to earn a master’s degree. In addition, all three seniors on the 2014-15 VCU roster (Treveon Graham, Jarred Guest and Briante Weber) are on pace to earn their bachelor’s degrees later this spring.
Weber made Atlantic 10 Conference history when he was named the A10 Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight season in 2014-15. Despite suffering a season-ending injury in late January, he finished third all-time in NCAA history with 374 career steals and led the nation with 121 steals during the 2013-14 season (13th-best total in NCAA Division I history). Graham, a two-time All-Atlantic 10 First Team selection, completed his career ranked second on the VCU all-time scoring list with 1,882 points and fifth in school history with 803 career rebounds.
Smart led VCU to a 26-10 overall record in 2014-15, including a 12-6 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference and a No. 25 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. The Rams captured the 2015 Atlantic 10 Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Second Round before falling to Ohio State (75-72) in overtime. This marked the program’s first A10 title and ninth overall conference title for VCU. The Rams became the first team since Xavier in 2006 to win four games in four days at the A10 Tournament. VCU finished the year at No. 15 in the NCAA RPI with the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule and the eighth-toughest overall schedule. The Rams posted 14 wins against the NCAA RPI Top 100, with nine of those victories coming away from home.
In 2013-14, the Rams registered a 26-9 mark, including a 12-4 record in the A10. VCU advanced to the NCAA Tournament Second Round and ranked No. 24 in the final AP poll. The Rams climbed as high as No. 10 in The AP poll on Nov. 19, 2013, the highest AP ranking in school history (previous best was No. 11 on March 11, 1985).
Smart helped VCU make the transition from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2012-13, and the Rams registered a 27-9 mark, including a 12-4 record in the A10. VCU advanced to the NCAA Tournament Third Round before falling to eventual NCAA finalist Michigan. The Rams were ranked No. 25 in the final AP poll, the school’s first appearance in the final poll since the 1984-85 season.
Despite the graduation of four of its five leading scorers from the 2011 Final Four team, Smart paced VCU to a 29-7 overall record in the 2011-12 season. The 29 wins set a school single-season record. The Rams posted a 15-3 mark in league play and won the CAA Tournament championship in their final year in the conference. VCU advanced to the NCAA Tournament Third Round, defeating Wichita State in the Round of 64 before falling to Indiana (63-61).
Smart’s tenure in VCU will be forever linked to the magical 2010-11 season, which saw the Rams advance to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history. VCU posted a 28-12 overall record, including a 12-6 mark in CAA play, and earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Forced to play in a First Four game in Dayton, the Rams registered five consecutive upsets in what many experts called the greatest run to the Final Four in tourney history. Along the way, VCU defeated “Power 5” schools USC (59-46), Georgetown (74-56), Purdue (94-76), Florida State (72-71 OT) and Kansas (71-61). The Rams’ victory against Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Southwest Region, was voted the “Best Upset” of 2011 at ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards.
VCU, which fell to Butler in the NCAA semifinals, finished the season ranked No. 6 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, the highest in school and CAA history. Smart earned the Fritz Pollard and Clarence Gaines National Coach of the Year Awards.
In his first year with the Rams, Smart paced VCU to a 27-9 overall record, including an 11-7 mark in the CAA, and the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) championship. VCU’s run to the CBI title included wins against George Washington (79-73), College of Charleston (93-86) and Boston University (88-75) before a two-game sweep of Saint Louis (68-56 and 71-65 wins) in the championship series. That team was led by Larry Sanders, who was selected as the No. 15 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, marking the highest NBA draft pick in VCU program history.
Prior to his time at VCU, Smart worked as an assistant under notable coaches Billy Donovan (Florida), Oliver Purnell (Clemson and Dayton) and Keith Dambrot (Akron). During his one year with Donovan at Florida, he helped lead the Gators to a 25-11 mark and a trip to the Postseason NIT quarterfinals in 2008-09. The 25 victories marked the fifth-highest number of wins in a single season in program history.
He served as an assistant coach under Purnell at Clemson for two seasons (2006-08). In that span, the Tigers posted a total of 49 wins and made back-to-back postseason appearances, including a NCAA Tournament berth in 2008.
Smart worked as an assistant at Akron for three years (2003-06). In his final season on the staff, he helped the Zips to a 23-10 record, marking the school’s highest victory total since it became a Division I program in 1980-81.
He also worked for Purnell at Dayton as director of basketball operations for two seasons (2001-03). During that time, the Flyers registered a 45-17 mark and won the 2003 Atlantic 10 Championship. The 2002-03 squad posted a 24-6 record and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Smart began his coaching career as an assistant at California University (Pa.) from 1999-2001. During his two seasons, the school recorded a 40-16 mark. While there, he also earned his master’s degree in social science in 2001.
A four-year starter and three-year team captain at Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio), Smart graduated magna cum laude in 1999 with a degree in history. He still holds the school single-season (184 in 1998-99) and career (542) records for most assists. In his senior season, he earned All-North Coast Conference (NCAC) honors and was tabbed the league’s Scholar Athlete of the Year. Smart was one of 20 students named to the 1999 USA Today All-USA Academic Team and earned a prestigious NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
A native of Madison, Wis., Smart was born on April 8, 1977. He and his wife, Maya, have one daughter, Zora Sanae (born Sept. 25, 2011).
Statement from Steve Patterson, University of Texas Men’s Athletics Director
“We are extremely excited today to announce that Shaka Smart will be joining us in Austin as our Head Men’s Basketball Coach. He is a smart, driven, exciting, dedicated coach and developer of young men who the entire basketball world has watched with admiration for some time. We know he can continue the upward trajectory of our basketball program and look forward to working with him and his family, including Maya and Little Zora, for many years to come.
Statement from William Powers Jr., University of Texas at Austin President
“Shaka Smart is one of the best basketball coaches in the nation, and we’re thrilled to bring him to Texas. He has vaulted VCU into the top tier of basketball programs and will now build on the great tradition established by Rick Barnes and the other Longhorn coaches who came before him. With his upbeat style of play, proven leadership and focus on education, Coach Smart will inspire our student-athletes for years to come. I look forward to seeing our program thrive under Shaka Smart.”