We are blessed to have one of the finest basketball coaches in America in our midst. VCU’s Shaka Smart is not yet 35 years old. He has taken his Rams to an unlikely Final Four and followed that up with a trip to the round of 32 after graduating nearly his entire team. The 2012 Rams were one of the youngest teams in the NCAA, and were able to accomplish something the Final Four team did not; a CAA Championship. VCU’s 29 victories this season is a school record and the future looks bright. Bradford Burgess is the only senior and three big-time recruits arrive this summer. Add to this, every senior under Shaka’s watch has graduated.
The man can coach. He is a recruiter, a gamer and a motivator. I have never heard anyone question his skills as a coach. He is the darling of the national stage and is the name that surfaces for every opening that comes available. The world is at his doorstep and the money is beyond comprehension. He has been offered upwards to $3 million annually to coach at the likes of Maryland, NC State and most recently, Illinois. Most thought he was gone. Chicago is a fertile recruiting ground and Shaka grew up just across the state line in Wisconsin. It seemed like the perfect match.
Yet Shaka is still a Ram. This man is different. He is fiercely loyal and I believe he really thinks that the trip to the Final Four in 2011 was just the beginning. The cast that is on board and the recruiting doors that have opened suggest this may just be the case. Shaka has said many times that he loves Richmond and he loves VCU. He has talked about the importance of family and how his wife, Maya, and new baby girl are happy here as well. Many coaches say things like this, but they rarely turn down 100 percent pay raises and more prestigious conferences to stay at a mid-major, regardless of the love they feel.
One thing that Shaka keeps saying is, “I was taught long ago that you don’t run away from happiness.” This is something I understand. When I came to Matoaca in 1978, it was a revolving door. Teachers and coaches came in, did their three years and got out. I found happiness there and never left. Who knows, maybe Shaka will break Coach K’s all time win record at VCU.
VCU stands alongside Wichita State, Gonzaga and Butler as the kings of mid-major basketball. Interestingly they all appear to have coaches that are “stayers.” Each has turned down very lucrative deals, with Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall announcing just this weekend that he had turned down $2 million from Nebraska. You have to root for these guys as they rack up victories and build their standing among both the experts and fans.
Perhaps Shaka Smart has found lifetime happiness at VCU. Here’s hoping that I will live to see him break Coach K’s all-time win record as a Ram!