Who is Shaka Smart?

Who is Shaka Smart?

For Texas, March Madness in the last few years has been more about a new spread offense, quarterback battles, and the upcoming football season’s non-conference schedule, than busted brackets or really anything having to do with a round ball.

But not this year.

As Charlie Strong and his crew prepared to install the spread, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard readied to take equal reps this spring, and the Longhorns looked ahead to a trip to South Bend, the hashtag #ShakaWatch was everywhere. Even before Rick Barnes had left Austin for Knoxville, rumors were swirling about who the next Texas men’s basketball coach would be. Both top candidates—VCU’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall—were hot potential hires from mid-major conferences. Smart quickly emerged as No. 1, and Marshall, with the help of Charles Koch, the billionaire namesake of the arena in which his Shockers play, was persuaded to turn down job interviews at other schools, Alabama included.

Beat writers followed UT Athletic Director Steve Patterson’s every move, including tracking his flight to Richmond. After Patterson’s trip, Smart met with his VCU players, but no news surfaced. Save for Statesman reporter Brian Davis’ said on Twitter that Strong’s “Huge … and I mean HUGE … smile when asked about Shaka Smart” was a telling gesture—nothing was official until April 2. (Strong and Smart were both assistants at Florida, their tenures overlapping in 2008-09.) The following afternoon, Smart gave a press conference at the Erwin Center—30 minutes late, as he spent some extra time addressing his new team—and aced his introduction. Here are the big takeaways:

VCU really wanted to keep the 37-year-old wunderkind who in 2011 took the 11-seed rams to the Final Four. Smart was asked about the rumor that $1 million was raised in order to keep him at VCU. He didn’t want to talk about it, but he said, “I won’t deny that.” Smart also turned down an offer from UCLA in March 2013.

From a basketball standpoint, the on-court product should look much different than it did under Barnes. The former D-III point guard from Kenyon College will install something he calls HAVOC. Killer name, right? But what does it mean? I won’t get too insider here, and there’s already an in-depth post at Burnt Orange Nation breaking it down from a technical standpoint. What you need to know is that Smart will emphasize the full-court press, half-court press, transition, and aggressive half-court offense, and a lot of action at the glass. He promises to make the Erwin Center exciting. “You guys are gonna love what you see,” Smart said to the media on Friday afternoon.

Smart expressed gratitude for the opportunity, calling UT both “a world-class institution” and “a very powerful brand,” which had to please both introductory speakers Bill Powers and Steve Patterson.

Smart explained the etymology of his given name, Shaka, as that of a great southern African warrior who united hundreds of thousands of people. “That name,” Smart said, “is probably the best thing my father ever gave me.” Which brings us to his surname. Smart addressed the predicament we as writers of headlines all face, now that Texas’ football and basketball coaches have the names Strong and Smart.

“We work hard, and, forgive the pun, we work smart.” Thanks, Shaka.

Below, watch a video of Smart addressing former Longhorn basketball players.

Here are some choice quotes from the press conference, as tweeted by @TexasExes:

 

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