Shaka who? VCU's new basketball coach has big plans for this year's team.
Gone is Shaka Smart, the architect of VCU’s full-court Havoc defense. The whirlwind pressure defense was a key factor in the Rams’ winning ways under Smart, whose teams won 26 or more games in each of his six seasons as head coach.
Smart has moved on from Virginia Commonwealth to the University of Texas, but VCU fans can continue to wear “Havoc” T-shirts to games. Will Wade, the Rams’ new head coach, is a proponent of full-court pressure, as well.
“We are still going to press and be in your face, because that’s what we do,” Wade said.
COMING HOME TO THE RAMS
Wade, the head coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga the past two seasons, is no stranger to Rams fans. Before taking the Chattanooga job, he was an assistant to Smart for four years, including the 2010-11 season when VCU stunned the college basketball world by advancing to the Final Four.
At Chattanooga, Wade revived a program that had fallen on hard times. He guided the Mocs to back-to-back winning seasons (18-15 and 22-10). He was Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 2014.
With Wade at the controls on the VCU bench, Havoc will have a slightly different look. It will look similar to “Chaos,” the catch term for the way opponents were pressured by Wade’s Chattanooga teams.
“The shape of our press will be a little bit different,” he said. “In the past it has been more man-to-man pressure. I think we can be just as effective with a match-up zone press.”
A major factor in Havoc’s success the past four seasons was the presence of one player, guard Briante Weber, who was on track to break college basketball’s record for career steals until a knee injury ended his VCU career last season, his senior year.
“Man-to-man pressure works well when you have a Briante Weber, who could just take the ball from you,” Wade said. “And he could take the ball from good players. A player with those skills comes along once in a career, if you’re lucky. But we will get a lot of steals, just in a different way.”
Some nights, an opponent finds a way to beat the press, which can lead to easy baskets. One criticism of Smart’s Havoc was that he tended to keep pressing when teams were beating the press.
Look for Wade’s Rams to back off.
“I do not like giving up layups,” he said. “At Chattanooga, when teams started beating our press, we just dropped back and played half-court defense. The end goal is to win games, so we’ll do whatever gives us the best opportunity to win.”
FITNESS, READING AND HOOPS – BUT NO HONEYMOON YET
Wade will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Thanksgiving Day. He grew up in Nashville and is a 2005 graduate of Clemson, where he was student manager of the basketball team. After graduating he served as a graduate assistant and director of basketball operations at Clemson. Next stop was Harvard as an assistant to Tommy Amaker for two seasons. When VCU hired Smart in 2009, Wade was the first assistant coach he hired.
To stay fit Wade finds time to exercise every day. “I run at least a mile every day,” he said. “Most days more than a mile, but at least a mile every day. I also do elliptical workouts. I try to burn 1,000 to 1,200 calories every morning to get my day going.”
He also finds time to read. On the day of this interview, a shelf behind his desk had a stack of about a dozen books he read this summer. On his desk was The Positive Dog, by Jon Gordon. It’s about being positive vs. being negative. “I’m trying to get some lessons out of it.”
One thing he has not found time for is a honeymoon with his wife, Lauren.
They were married in August 2014, just before school started at Chattanooga. They were going to take a honeymoon this past spring, but that was foiled when Wade took the VCU job. Instead of going on a honeymoon, he went courting recruits.
“We went to the beach for three days [in August], but after three hours I was ready to go,” Wade said with a laugh. “So I still owe her a honeymoon.”
Good thing his wife is a team player – or there could be Havoc and Chaos at home.
Steve Clark is a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch Metro columnist who has been a college basketball junkie since his college days at Davidson, now an Atlantic 10 rival of VCU .