Tag:Shaka Smart
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:55 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 2:57 pm

Shaka, VCU in limbo for NCAA bid once again

Saturday's game against George Mason looms large for the Rams, who lost to GMU on Valentine's Day. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

No matter what happens from now until Selection Sunday, know this: VCU of 2012 is very different from VCU of 2011.

That's a narrative not natural to embrace less than a year after one of the three most unlikely Final Four runs in tournament history. Still, this team is nothing like last year's. Most of the talent that got VCU to Houston and in that game against Butler is gone. The only remaining recognizable name: Brad Burgess, who's taken on the load and done it well. He leads the team in points at 12.9 per game.

It's a young team, though. The average experience on the 13-man roster is 1.4 years. Last season that number was 2.17, according to KenPom.com.

No matter: VCU's been able to put itself in a good position, relatively speaking. Last year the team was 3-5 in February and now they’re a 30-foot bomb from undefeated since Jan. 9. The lone loss came on the road at 23-7 George Mason. This is how it happened. (Brief NSFW language after the shot falls.)

"It's a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, that loss," coach Shaka Smart said.

VCU's rematch with GMU comes Saturday. It's also the season finale for both teams. Getting swept by the Patriots has potential to be very damaging to the Rams, despite the run since conference play began wherein VCU's beating league foes by more than nine points per game.

Smart's had to balance a new type of life this season. He became the father to a baby girl in September and has coached under the expectation and heat lamp that a Final Four appearance brings. Nobody's expecting VCU to get back to college basketball's ultimate big stage, but another dance appearance wasn't too much to ask as far as VCU fans were concerned. Take that, then toss in the fact that soon enough his name will be placed onto, and probably at the top of, the list of candidates to coach the University of Illinois, as Bruce Weber is expected to be bought out of his contract when this season ends.

I didn't address that with Smart when I spoke to him on the phone Thursday morning. (No coach who respects the profession is talking out of turn about another job during the season anyway.) Right now, Smart's realistic about his team, meaning he doesn't know if it's worthy this year like it was last year for an at-large. That's not doubt, that's pragmatism and avoidance of media speculation. Fair approach; this year, the pool of bubble teams is as different as his team. VCU's not the 3-point-happy club that it was last year. This one's defensive-minded. The Rams lead the nation in steal percentage (15.9) and create the most turnovers per possession as well, tying Ohio at a 27.1-percent clip.

"A lot of teams can score in a lot of ways, but we’re not one of them," Smart said. "We have to be able to create offense in other ways. The style of play is the same, but the way the team executes is a little bit different. We’re better defensively, not even close really if you look at the numbers and watch us play."

The 3-point shot is what got VCU to the Final Four last year. Remember that game against Kansas? Unexpectedly, the Rams bombed away on 25 3-pointers and sank 12 of them. It was the rocket fuel that got VCU to Houston. This season, this team isn't not adept to the deep shot; it's hitting 32.9 percent of its 3s, putting it in the bottom third of Division I.

"And we don’t have Jamie Skeen to throw the ball to inside and get you a basket or get fouled every time," Smart said.

He also tossed out this: Last year, in his opinion, the CAA was better. Makes sense, as the league got three teams into the tournament, whereas this season you can find a heavy horde that think this conference should only earn one bid. I think I disagree, but regardless, the notion is interesting, considering the separation and chase we've seen at the top of the league. Drexel (15-2), VCU (14-3), George Mason (14-3) and Old Dominion (13-4) have provided intrigue for the past three weeks. Although the odds have Drexel winning the league title, realistically, the CAA tournament is going to be a blast. It's wide open and those four teams stand nearly equal chances at earning the auto bid.

As the attention and speculation his team's chances will increase in the coming week, Smart said he and his staff do their best at avoiding the talk of their big-bracket chances. The team largely does, too. Last year, Joey Rodriguez practically tracked Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi's projections daily. This young group doesn't indulge in the prognosticating.

It doesn't do anyone much good to try and predict VCU's future anyway.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 30, 2011 9:46 am
Edited on: September 30, 2011 10:15 am

Shaka Smart celebrates again

By Jeff Goodman

It's been quite a year for Shaka Smart.

"A roller-coaster trip," he told CBSSports.com on Thursday. "An unforgettable year."

First came an improbable Final Four appearance for VCU's 34-year-old head coach and Sunday night came the birth of his first child with his wife, Maya.

Zora Sanae Smart - named after black novelist Zora Neale Hurston, best-known for her 1937 book Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Smart and his wife kept the pregnancy quiet - until Maya's father became sick in February.

"She wanted to tell him," Smart said.

Weeks later, Smart told his grandfather just prior to his death.

Maya Smart was due on Sept. 14, but didn't deliver her daughter until Sunday - 11 days past the due date.

"She was in labor forever," Smart said. "For two days."

Finally, on 2:17 a.m., Zora was born.

Immediately, it hit Smart when they announced the birth time.

"The basketball junkie in me came out," Smart laughed. "I thought 2:17. that's Michael Jordan's birthday."

Smart said there's no ideal timing to have a child in the world of college basketball, but a little less than three weeks prior to the start of practice was certainly much better than in the middle of the season.

"It's been a very emotional, passion-filled time," Smart said.

Photo via Smart's Twitter account
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 13, 2011 4:18 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 4:29 pm

Shaka visible to recruits thanks to ESPY Awards

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Pretty much all college coaches are spending Wednesday in a gym -- many of them here at the Nike Peach Jam -- in hopes that a desired prospect will recognize their presence and, on down the road, reward them with a commitment.

That's the the gist of the July evaluation period.

Coaches evaluate some, sure.

But they mostly just want to be seen.

Which is why Wednesday night is a big night for Shaka Smart.

No, he's not at the Peach Jam or any other summer event watching prospects run up and down a court. But he'll still be more visible than anybody thanks to an invitation to the ESPY Awards that'll put the VCU coach on national television. The Rams are nominated in the "best upset" category for their win over Kansas that propelled the Colonial Athletic Association school to the Final Four. So Smart has spent the day out in Hollywood for the event, but he plans to return to his normal workload as soon as possible.

"It's a different animal out here," Smart told CBSSports.com via text message Wednesday afternoon. "Taking the redeye after the show to get back on the road."

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Shaka Smart, VCU
Posted on: June 29, 2011 12:52 pm
Edited on: June 29, 2011 1:50 pm

Let's look at the details of Shaka's new contract

By Matt Norlander

(Update below: I had a massive error in the math. A comma didn't get moved, or something. Mr. Whaley, my fifth-grade teacher, would be so ashamed.)

You go to the Final Four, the rules change. The contract changes. You get paid. Often times, you can change jobs.

In Shaka Smart's case, he just wanted a little more money for a job very well done and very much unexpected. I talked with Smart in May, and he told me leaving VCU wasn't something that was ever on his immediate radar, even while VCU's unprecedented run to the Final Four was fermenting and he was becoming the coach du jour in college hoops.

Smart's not a grass-is-greener type of guy. Does it mean he'll never leave? Absolutely not. (I think he's gone by 2015.) But for now, building a legacy and reputation for VCU is chief among his directives while leading the Rams.

And so the school -- which got help from the student body -- drafted up a new contract. Nathan Fenno of the Washington Times got the details of Smart's new deal, which he signed Monday afternoon. There are a number of incentives. He will be earning $1.2 million per year going forward, and the 30 bonuses built into the contract include rewards for increasing attendance (a guarantee next season), getting his players to walk across the commencement-ceremony podium, beating ACC teams, beating Richmond (I love this; Smart gets two grand if he knocks off the Spiders), winning coach-of-the-year awards, and more.

He's also permitted 10 grand per year in "clothing allowance." It's my life's mission to keep this clause's existence out of sight and out of mind for my future wife. Expect Smart to dapper up next season.

Here are some of the big incentives, per the Washington Times:

Winning the CAA regular-season title: $3,500.

National Invitation Tournament
NIT appearance: $2,000.
First-round win: $1,000.
Second win: $3,000.
Third win: $5,000.
Fourth win: $8,000.
Championship: $12,000.

NCAA Tournament
NCAA appearance: 1.5 months base salary (base is $450,000).
First-round win: One month base.
Second win: One month base.
Third win: One month base.
Fourth win: 1.5 months base.
Fifth win: 1.5 months base.
Sixth win: Two months base.
Seventh win: Two months base.

In total, at the most optimal ending, Smart stands to earn $524,750 (with one win over an ACC team and Richmond) if he unlocks every single possible incentive in his contract. That's shrewd negotiating. But there is no trump card like a Final Four still visible and large in the rearview mirror.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Shaka Smart, VCU
Posted on: May 25, 2011 2:37 pm
Edited on: May 25, 2011 2:39 pm

VCU increases fees to help pay Shaka's salary

Posted by Matt Norlander

If it ensured your school would make a Final Four, would you be willing to add $50 to your annual tuition?

Most students that give a whiff about college hoops would answer "yes" without much hesitation. And so it is so for the undergraduates at Virginia Commonwealth University, who will be putting some change into the hat to help pay for the university's athletics budget. After spurning more lucrative offers from other schools in April, Shaka Smart opted to stay at VCU and receive a raise for doing so, earning reportedly $1.2 million per year.
VCU's overall university fee will increase $50 per full-time student for the 2011-12 school year, and the athletics department will receive a greater percentage of total fee revenue than it did in 2010-11, VCU spokeswoman Pam Lepley said Monday. The result, Lepley said, will be an $875,000 net revenue increase for athletics. Based on 2010-11 enrollment, that's an increase of roughly $30.50 for each full-time student.
VCU, a public university, will now also charge $700 more per year in tuition. There is a distinction and difference, as tuition money cannot legally go toward funding athletics; thus: fees. These decisions weren't made exclusively because of Smart's salary, but they certainly play a role. In a sense, this isn't all that uncommon. While in college, I was at the student newspaper, and being part of such an enterprise, you get the chance to see how the wheels are greased at higher-education institutions. These kinds of fees are slipped into tuitition costs all the time, often for things many would find completely unfair.

Fortunately Shaka Smart is such a valued commodity, this new arithmetic won't bother too many. This could be beneficial for the university in terms of public relations, when you consider VCU will absolutely receive a bump in applications after such a prominent run on the national stage.

If there was ever a time to make this kind of move, it's now, when the school has a popular young coach who's helped put the school and the basketball program on a level it's never been before.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Shaka Smart, VCU
Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:39 pm

VCU set to get White House, Wrigley treatment

Posted by Matt Norlander

VCU has only begun to reap the rewards and positive PR from its unpredictable Final Four run. The Rams' appearance in Houston will have benefits that will last for years, but in the here and now, three pretty cool things are happening for the head coach and an outgoing senior.

Shaka Smart, who spurned potential significant raises at major-conference schools and chose to stay with VCU, will be making two privileged public appearances in the next three weeks. First, Smart will hop in the car and head east for the White House Correspondents dinner, on April 30. The dinner takes place at the end of each April and has become more and more of a celebrity-driven event. This year's featured performer is Seth Myers.

It's not an easy ticket to snag, and Smart's probably not in attendance if his team doesn't beat Kansas in San Antonio on March 27.

Eight days later, on May 8, Smart will lead the Bleacher Bums and Cubbies faithful in the north side of Chicago, singing during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" has brought out the best and worst (mostly the worst) in celebrity drive-by performances. Wonder how Smart will do. He seems like a Tenor 2 to me.

The Cubs play against Cincinnati that day. The reason for Smart's appearance is due to his Chicago ties; he frequently went to Cubs games when he was younger, when his grandfather took him, the same grandfather who died during VCU's Final Four run this season.

Smart grew up in Madison, Wisc., but claims the Cubs as his team. The Cubs have had plans in the works for awhile to get Smart and Brad Stevens to the park to sing. Stevens ran this gamut last year, when he utilized his pipes in the booth and his arm on the mound. No public response yet from Stevens, but it'd be pretty great if he made a second trip north this spring.

As for the aforementioned senior, the Rams' Joey Rodriguez will head to the White House on May 5. Why? He'll be a special guest for the annual Cinco de Mayo dinner. In case you're wondering: graduation comes 16 days later. What a way to finish up college. It's been an incredible ending for Rodriguez, who came extremely close to not playing for Smart at VCU. Talk about having the right change of heart.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 1, 2011 6:09 pm

Rams feed off Smart's energy

Posted by Jeff Borzello

HOUSTON – On the surface, it’s not a weird sight: Shaka Smart jumping around, full of energy, getting his players motivated.

It’s normal to see it during a game, while Smart is on the sideline. But in practice?

Smart and the other VCU coaches were involved in a drill at the end of the Rams’ practice on Friday, running around the court and throwing the ball, while having the players chase the ball or draw charges. It finished with Smart saving the ball from going out of bounds and then the players huddling around him.

“We’ve been talking about how important some of the defensive things are to the game tomorrow night,” Smart said. “Our coaches figured we would step in and put our bodies where our mouth is.”

Apparently the only people were surprised were the onlookers – this is a regular occurrence at VCU practices.

“Usually when our other point guard, Darius [Theus], messes up or something, he’ll try to hop in in practice, tell him to get out of the way, run the offense. When he’s done, he’s like, ‘Yeah, just like that.’ He does that a lot actually,” senior Joey Rodriguez said.

“If anything, it’s that, just hopping in and trying to prove to people that he can do what you’re supposed to do in practice.”

Smart is one of the younger coaches in college basketball, only 33 years old. Still, the majority of 33-year olds that can move around like that on a basketball court are professional basketball players.

At least we now know where the Rams’ players get their energy during games.

“Coach Smart is an energy bunny,” senior Ed Nixon said. “It makes us feed off him. If he can do it, we can definitely do it.”

VCU has been feeding off Smart’s energy and enthusiasm all tournament, with the Rams’ up-tempo style and extreme ball pressure defensively carrying them to Houston. They look like they’re enjoying playing with each other and just seem happy to be playing in the NCAA tournament and under this sort of spotlight.

Smart and his players all talk about the looseness they need to play with, both on the sidelines and on the court.

It’s not often you see Smart ripping one of his players in front of the crowd, or see him yelling at a referee incessantly. In fact, the technical he drew against Kansas was only the second he has received in two seasons. According to Smart, it was not because of anything he said – he simply went on the court too quickly.

“I’ve got to control my pace as I move toward the officials,” Smart joked after last week’s win over Kansas.

He certainly doesn’t control his pace during practice, as evidenced by the “Iron Man” drill everyone saw on Friday.

“That gets us very excited, just to see coach running around,” guard Darius Theus said. “Sometimes you think, ‘I wonder if they can do that.’ They’re putting effort into it.”

“It just makes you want to play that much harder,” freshman Rob Brandenberg added. “If they can do it, we’ve got to have 10, 15 times more energy.”

Heading into Saturday’s national semifinal tilt against Butler, VCU does not need any added motivation. If the Rams win, they continue their improbable Cinderella run towards a national championship. They’re already advanced further than any VCU team in the program’s history, and will be the first No. 11 seed to reach the national title game.

However, while it’s unlikely they didn’t know before, the players now know Smart and the other coaches are just as eager to win a championship.

Said forward Juvonte Reddic: “It makes us know they want it as bad as we do.”

Photo: US Presswire

More NCAA tournament coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 23, 2011 7:30 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 7:46 pm

Missouri can benefit from Anderson's departure

Posted by Matt Norlander

So Mike Anderson is leaving one job for another. One BCS school for another. A lot of fans may be confounded by this because, on the surface, Arkansas and Missouri don’t appear to be too different in terms of status. In fact, right now, Missouri is in better shape than Arkansas (though Arkansas is still slated to have a firm freshman class coming in next season). So it's tough to justify the move in a few ways.

Well, Arkansas is a better job than Missouri; that's why Anderson is in the process of moving his life from Columbia to Fayetteville.  Arkansas isn’t the school or program it once was, but when it’s winning and competing for SEC titles and Final Fours, it’s a top-20-in-the-country job, in my opinion. So that’s why Anderson’s going. That, and he’s an Arkansas guy; Anderson was an assistant at the school for more than 15 years under Nolan Richardson. Richardson: You know, the guy who delivered Arkansas its only national title, 17 years ago, then came within 40 minutes of winning another one the next year.

Anderson wasn't a candidate upon Richardson's departure nearly a decade ago. The school's doubled back on the man who made UAB a feared team in March during the mid-2000s and took Missouri to the Elite Eight in 2009. After five years, Anderson's leaving. This could have the potential to be great (yes, great) for both parties.

Without Anderson, Missouri appears to be in good shape in the short-term. Some may think the Tigers are in a lurch, but that's hardly the case. Anderson leaves the program with just one departing senior, Justin Safford, who averaged only 6.4 points per game this season. Check the roster. Four junior starters, who will be senior starters, are back next year, plus Missouri's been freed from Anderson's seven-year, multi-million dollar contract. That means the athletic director can chase VCU's Shaka Smart, Marquette's Buzz Williams or Richmond's Chris Mooney — all of whom would be considered home-run hires in Columbia.

All of them, as you know, are still coaching this week, as their teams are playing Thursday and Friday in the Sweet 16. With the Big 12 deflating to 10 teams next year (Colorado is going to the Pac-12; Nebraska to the Big Ten), coaching within the league also becomes an attractive option, as the overall challenge is lessened with two fewer squads, even if said squads were consistently in the Big 12 basement.

Smart and Williams now become the primary targets. Both have reputations and connections in the South, so if Missouri could snatch either one, they'd bolster the program's viability immediately. Plus, both have been winners in recent years, and isn't that the most important thing? If Mizzou is to "win" and come out of this with good face, then nabbing one of the three names listed above — or hoodwink us all and rope in a viable, familiar candidate currently coaching at another school — is the objective.

The Missouri job is a very good one, a job that should be attractive enough to lure away one of the cha-ching candidates you've heard floated over the past week. If that happens, Tigers fans shouldn't be sad one bit over Anderson leaving them behind. In fact, it might end up being in better shape than it was with Anderson.


More NCAA tournament coverage
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com