Q&A: Shaka Smart
BOOMER talks with VCU men's basketball coach Shaka Smart.
Shaka Smart, entering his sixth season as Virginia Commonwealth University’s head basketball coach, was recently selected by an ESPN panel as the 13th best coach among the 351 in Division 1 men’s basketball. His Rams have won 26 or more games each season, leading at times to job offers from N.C. State, Illinois, UCLA, Minnesota and Marquette. He turned them down to stay at VCU. On the eve of the 2014-15 season, BOOMER explores some of his thinking.
Q. WHAT IS IT ABOUT VCU, OR ABOUT METRO RICHMOND, THAT KEEPS YOU HERE?
A. The No. 1 thing that keeps me here is the players. That’s the reason why we all get into coaching. We want to try and help move along our players, both on and off the court, and help the setup to succeed in life. Outside of the players, we’ve got a tremendous support system at VCU from our assistant coaches, strength and conditioning, training room, academics and all the way across the board. When you’ve got all those pieces around that help continue to move the program and the players forward, it’s easy to see why VCU is the place to be.
Q. WHAT OUTSIDE OFFER HAS TEMPTED YOU THE MOST, AND WHY?
A. I’ve never talked publicly about any other offers. My sole focus is on VCU.
Q. YOU AND YOUR WIFE, MAYA, ARE KNOWN FOR CIVIC INVOLVEMENT. DO YOU HAVE A PHILOSOPHY THAT YOU IMPART TO YOUR PLAYERS?
A. We don’t have a specific philosophy, but we want our players to understand the role they play in this community and to appreciate the opportunity they have at VCU. Many of our players were in the same spot as some of the kids they go to the schools and visit with, and we want them to share those experiences and be a positive influence on this community. The Richmond community has done an unbelievable job of supporting us, and we need to appreciate that support by spending time giving back.
Q. THE BIG ON-COURT NEWS LAST SEASON WAS THE TIGHTER OFFICIATING. HOW DID IT AFFECT VCU’S “HAVOC” DEFENSE? WHAT ADJUSTMENTS DID YOU MAKE?
A. As coaches, we’re always making adjustments. As far as the officiating, the biggest thing we saw was the difference from game to game, and in some cases there was a difference between the first half and second half. I think that’s what made the games more difficult, because our players didn’t know what was going to be called on a given night or even in a given half.
Q. IN HINDSIGHT, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IN THE OVERTIME LOSS TO STEPHEN F. AUSTIN IN YOUR FIRST GAME OF THE NCAA TOURNAMENT LAST SEASON?
A. As a coach, I really don’t try to focus on hindsight too much. We’ll use that game as a learning tool for our players and us as a staff, but I really don’t like to deal in “what ifs.” I’ve used the quote, “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing,” and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m focused on moving our players along on a daily basis.
Q. WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU SEE YOUR FORMER PLAYERS ACHIEVE SUCCESS AT THE NEXT LEVEL?
A. I think the word that comes to mind is joy. I’m just happy to see any of our guys succeed at all walks of life, whether it be in the NBA or overseas or working in the Secret Service.
Q. SINCE THE THRILL OF TAKING THE RAMS FROM “FIRST FOUR” TO “FINAL FOUR” IN 2011, WHAT HAVE BEEN THE PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR LIFE?
A. I think the obvious one is my daughter, Zora, who was born a couple of months after the Final Four, and seeing all of the seniors in our program graduate with their degrees. As coaches, we’re judged on wins and losses, but the bottom line is that we’re here to help our players succeed, and for all of our seniors to graduate with degrees is something that is important to me.
Q. WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE FOR YOU TO CONSIDER THE UPCOMING 2014-15 SEASON A SUCCESS?
A. As a program, we have internal goals, and certainly we want to try and win every game we play, but there’s only been a handful of teams that have done that in history. We just want to get better every time we step on the court, and if we’re able to do that, the success will follow.
Ed Kelleher, a freelance writer, is a retired deputy news editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.