Shaka Smart Goes West
By: Connor Lenahan
Shaka Smart became a big name college basketball coach a few years ago when he lead the Virginia Commonwealth Rams to the Final Four. That 2011 team, alongside Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs, were two mid-major success stories that had knocked off some of the biggest names in the sport for a shot at a national title that neither won. Butler beat VCU in the Final Four before falling to UConn in the national title game.
Before last season Brad Stevens, widely considered the best coach not at a “power” program, took the open position as head coach of the Boston Celtics. This left Shaka Smart and his VCU team as the most attractive mid-major coaching candidate in the country. It looked as though Smart would stay put the last few seasons. His teams were regularly successful and made the tournament. However, just last night things changed. Shaka Smart is now the head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Now I’m upset.
Boston University is not a major basketball program and is nowhere close to that designation. The teams I see frequently, the fellow Patriot League schools, are also mid-major programs that regularly take on and lose to the big schools like Kentucky and Duke. Just this year in the NCAA tournament the Lafayette Leopards, 2015 Patriot League Champs, lost to the Villanova Wildcats by over 40 points. Mid-major basketball works best when we hang together or, in the case of Butler and VCU, topple the powers above. Because I can relate more to Butler and VCU than Louisville and Wisconsin I find myself loving coaches like Stevens and Smart.
Selfishly I wasn’t upset that Stevens took the pro job. I live just miles away from his office, so I get to enjoy the genius that he brings in person. However, I always had a spot in my heart for Smart who had taken a team that probably did not have any business in the tournament – they only made the tournament through the “First Four” – to the Final Four. It made me proud as a fellow mid-major basketball fan and employee. I don’t even remotely blame him for jumping ship for Texas. The situation will almost certainly succeed. He has better facilities and a better program surrounding him – nothing against VCU, but they simply are not Texas from a reputation aspect. Smart will most likely change the Longhorns from a long underachieving squad into a potential tournament nightmare as early as next year.
But that doesn’t change that I was upset to see him go. I don’t like when one of the truly great mid-major guys leaves for greener pastures. I cannot blame him, but that doesn’t mean I won’t immediately start questioning how much larger a legacy he could have left if he turned VCU into a Gonzaga-esque powerhouse. I’m selfish, and of this I am aware, but I would have loved to keep Smart with the little guys. Just for once.
Again, I’m selfish. Now it’s time to stand behind the man and watch him hopefully succeed as fast as possible. Stevens did it, now it’s Smart’s turn.