27 Jun

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Shaka Smart’s Transition to Texas is an Adjustment, for Everybody via ESPN

 

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(via ESPN) AUSTIN, Texas -- At 6:30 a.m., the dry breeze begins to rustle Central Texas from its deep slumber. But he's already skipping and hopping through the hallway like it's noon.

Daniel Roose, strength and conditioning coach for the Texas Longhorns men's basketball program, sets his internal dial to Ultimate Warrior, blasts Luke Bryan's "Play It Again" through the weight room's speakers and shouts at the young men who shuffle into the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion with an anchored stride.

"It's Enthusiasm Tuesday!" yells Roose, a member of a staff that employs a new theme every day (Appreciation Monday, Enthusiasm Tuesday, Competitiveness Wednesday, etc.).

Cameron Ridley soars for the rebound on 11/14/2014 against NDSU. (Photo: Jesse Drohen)

Cameron Ridley soars for the rebound on 11/14/2014 against NDSU. (Photo: Jesse Drohen)

New Texas coach Shaka Smart hustles ahead of his players, leaps and shoulder-bumps an unsuspecting Cameron Ridley, a 6-foot-9, 285-pound center for the Longhorns. Ridley looks to his right as if he's convinced that a mosquito has just tickled his ear before he notices Smart, 38, bubbling beside him and smirking.

"It was just a great opportunity," Smart said about leaving VCU to accept the offer from Texas in April. "It felt like Texas is a really unique place with a lot of potential. ... I didn't plan it out but at the same time, it'd be dishonest to say that any type of decision that you make as a coach, career-wise, there's not a context. For instance, there was no way I was leaving the year we went to the Final Four (in 2011). Everyone's like, you gotta jump on this opportunity, but I couldn't imagine having gone through that experience with those guys and literally, a week later, going somewhere else. So the timing of it is always a factor."

It's all rosy now in Austin, five months before the 2015-16 season starts. But that's largely because the Longhorns, like every team in America, are undefeated. This is a program that hasn't reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2008. The school's controversial athletic director, Steve Patterson, just fired a coach who missed one NCAA tournament (2013) in 17 years because he continued to struggle in a league that will return as much talent as any conference in the country next season.

(image via Sports Illustrated)

(image via Sports Illustrated)

"The coaches in this league, I mean it's a who's who and just the way that those programs are run and supported," Smart said. "Competing against those guys is a challenge. I haven't done it yet. I mean, we just got here. I think recruiting is both an opportunity and a challenge. We've got great players in this state. We're the University of Texas. We want them to have a desire and an attraction to play for the University of Texas, but at the same time, everyone comes and recruits in this state."

The attention that Texas attracts can help Smart achieve his mission. But, as the latter years of the Rick Barnes Era proved, it could also make it more difficult.

"You gotta embrace [the spotlight]," said former Texas star T.J. Ford, who has praised the program for hiring Smart. "That attention is not beneficial to everyone. You're going to be scrutinized. You're going to be criticized, like any established program. ... I think Coach Smart and his staff can handle it."

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James Schleicher is the publisher of Horns Illustrated magazine. He's also a fifth generation Texan and lifelong Austinite. Follow @HornsIllus twitter to keep up with all things Horns Illustrated.