The Smart Money: 5 Things to Know about Shaka Smart, Texas Men’s Basketball Head Coach


Shaka Smart is the new face of Texas basketball and with that comes a lot of anticipation. There are still over 6 months before college basketball gets started again at-large, so help yourself to some knowledge about Texas' newest head coach.

1. Shaka Smart Is the anti-Rick Barnes.

This is not a slight against the former Texas head coach Rick Barnes, who certainly made a considerable impact with the Longhorns. That said, the main complaint about Barnes in the twilight of his time at Texas was that he was unable to connect with his players. Prince Ibeh, Texas sophomore center, acknowledged that Rick Barnes employs an old-school method of coaching and that a fresh start for the program was probably the right way to go. While Rick Barnes has stated that his top priority as a college basketball coach was to get players ready to play in the NBA, that doesn't mean that he connected with the players on a personal level. Shaka Smart will do that. In fact, he almost didn't come to the University of Texas because of his loyalty and relationship with his players at VCU.

Smart spoke about his former players at VCU in his opening press conference as Texas head coach, saying, "The hardest thing for me in making the move was leaving the players that I felt so close to and those are guys that I will stay in contact with and be close to for the rest of my life."

2. Smart is a Family Man first and foremost, and that Fact will Bring Recruits

It seems unfair to compartmentalize a man's life in a few paragraphs, so we encourage you to learn additional information about Smart when you can, but to understand why Smart has such a deep connection with his players you need to understand the life of Smart as an individual. Monica King, Smart's mother raised Smart and two other sons on her own after his father left the family when Shaka was 2. In addition, his grandfather, Walter King, played an integral part in Smart's growth. Walter was a print salesman who would cut out clippings that interested his grandchildren. Basketball was the area of focus of Shaka. King filled that void that Shaka potentially would have possessed by missing a father figure.

“He taught me a lot,” Smart said in an interview with “He taught me about humility and appreciation. He taught me manners. He taught me about work ethic.”

Smart attended Kenyon College after forming a bond with then-basketball coach Bill Brown. On the Kenyon website Smart states that Brown was "reasons one, two, and three why I came." While at the school Smart proved he possessed a commitment to both homework and the hardwood, earning magna cum laude honors as a history major while playing as the Lords' point guard, captain, and all-time assists leader.

Smart's life experiences and values of appreciation, dedication in the classroom, and success as a player and coach in college makes him the perfect coach when it comes to approaching recruits. They won't just get a coach for 1 to 4 years at Texas; they are earning a mentor and friend for life.

3. Shaka Smart is Guaranteed to Return to VCU ... When the Texas Longhorns Play them.

4. He Aims to Wreak "Havoc" in the Big 12 The Havoc defense, Smart's trademark defensive juggernaut scheme, will be unlike anything you have likely seen in regularity. It is not your typical full-court press. Smart employs a 1-2-1-1 zone press (called "diamond" because the front four players form that shape) about a third of the time, with a number of tweaks and hybrid options, but its go-to look is a trapping man-to-man called "double-fist." Quick guards are a necessity for this defense to work so that Smart's team may "heat up the ball" in one-on-one situations. The strategy is to force the ballhandler to lose his composure and prevent him from being able to sense or prepare for the looming trap. (Hat-tip to Luke Winn's fascinating read on the 2013 VCU Rams and the Havoc defense.) Kansas coach Bill Self got a taste of Smart's hell-raising "Havoc" defense in the 2011 NCAA Men's Tournament, when the Rams gave the Jayhawks fits on way to a 71-61 upending of the #1 seed. We could literally spend days breaking down Smart's defensive strategy but it would likely be more beneficial to you as a reader to watch Smart explain some of the principles itself. Another note worth mentioning from Winn's piece: Smart's Rams had a rule at the time of the article against showing fatigue. "We have rules against it: Can't grab your shorts, can't touch your knees, even in practice," said Rams assistant coach (and press director) Will Wade.

5. Coach Smart Is already hard at Work. Smart made it clear that he plans to hit the ground running as the Texas head coach and there is already evidence to support his statement. This is music to the ears of Texas basketball fans.

1 to grow on ... Richmond, Virginia Citizens were willing to Do Whatever it Took to Keep Smart, even the Absurd

How eager were VCU fans to keep Shaka Smart? Their students organized a pep rally in hopes it would change his mind. Their support was touching but ultimately fruitless. But the good thing is they're getting the word out quickly about a job opening, if partially in jest.

And then there were some other shenanigans going on as well. Strip clubs in Richmond Virginia were offering him and his staff free lapdances. Fortunately for fans of the burnt orange, Shaka Smart is a class individual and only cares about the Big Dance, not a lapdance.

James Schleicher

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.

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