It was time for Shaka to go. VCU fans don’t want to hear that, but its true. Shaka Smart had taken the Rams as far as they were ever going to go, a perennial March contender. Now, Smart is the head man in charge at Texas after athletic director Steve Patterson and former head coach Rick Barnes mutually decided to part ways after 17 seasons.
Smart is just 38 years old and has already proven to be one the best coaches in the college game today. In 2011, he took the VCU Rams to the Final Four. Had anyone ever really heard of VCU before then?
Don’t lie, you probably hadn’t.
Smart is inheriting a Longhorn basketball program that greatly underachieved under Barnes, going to just one Final Four back in 2003. Here are five things Shaka Smart will have to do in order to turn around the Texas basketball program.
Bring the Havoc
Smart’s VCU teams were made famous by their intense form of fast-paced, full court pressure defense, aptly named HAVOC. Havoc was hell on opposing offenses. Teams were forced into a panic, constant turnovers, and faced with a never ending onslaught of fresh bodies from the Rams’ bench. It was stitched on the back of the teams game shorts, and imprinted on the stands of the basketball arena — VCU was havoc.
The Big 12 has teams that can put up some points, but doesn’t have a ton of teams noted for their defense. Smart can gain quick respect from his conference coaching peers and potential recruits by bringing the HAVOC that made the VCU Rams such a special team to Austin.
One of the biggest knocks on Rick Barnes was, for being such a great recruiter, he couldn’t develop the talent he accumulated. Yeah, he sent a lot of players on to the NBA, but his teams at Texas suffered for it. Smart’s coaching philosophy is very much team based, not built on star players. Smart has put several players in the NBA, including Troy Daniels, Eric Maynor, and, Larry Sanders. Stud VCU defender Briante Weber could have been a first-round draft pick this June before having major knee surgery.
Recruiting against the likes of Bill Self and Fred Hoiberg will be a real challenge for Smart, who finds himself in a conference that sent eight teams to the tournament this past March. Shaka has been long known to give second chances to players that potentially could be risks, and has been very successful in that approach, but it’s a maneuver that might not work so well in Austin.
Please the Boosters
The University of Texas is the nation’s largest public university with boosters whose pockets run deeper than an Amarillo oil well. Money talks in Austin, and winning fixes all problems. Smart has the reputation for being his own man, which is fantastic, but at Texas he’s going to have to learn to kiss a little booster rawhide if he wants things to transition smoothly.
Make the Final Four
This seems obvious; the Final Four is the ultimate goal for every basketball program in America. But things are different at Texas. How can the nation’s biggest athletic department have just one Final Four appearance since 1947 and one Sweet 16 since 2008? Shaka has been there and done that with a heck of a lot less resources that are at his fingertips now. The ability to recruit kids to play in Austin shouldn’t be hard; convincing McDonald’s All-Americans to play HAVOC style of defense might be, though.
Bill Self has absolutely owned the Big 12 since he was hired in 2003 from Illinois. Since Self took over Kansas, the Jayhawks have won 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles. It’s high-time that someone else have a chance at the throne. Why not Shaka Smart and the Longhorns?
Texas offers everything that a prized recruit could want. What sounds better to you, Austin, Texas, or Lawrence, Kansas? You don’t even have to answer that out loud. Can Shaka be the one to finally overthrow the Kansas King?