TEXAS HOOPS SEARCH FOCUSING ON SMART

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson started off his search for a new basketball coach with two names in mind - VCU coach Shaka Smart and Villanova coach Jay Wright - not Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall - two sources close to the situation told HornsDigest.com Monday night.

And Patterson's search appears to be zeroing in on the 37-year-old Shaka Smart, whom UT's search firm and/or Patterson has already contacted twice, the sources said.

"Things are warm right now, but they could be heating up," one source close to the situation told HD Monday night.

Another source said they expected Patterson to offer Smart the Texas job, possibly as early as Tuesday.

Smart, who earned roughly $1.5 million last season, and Villanova coach Jay Wright, 53, who earned $2.29 million, were the leading candidates on Patterson's list as he set out to replace 17-year coach Rick Barnes, the sources said. Barnes, 60, earned $2.625 million last season, plus a $125,000 bonus for reaching the NCAA Tournament. 

HornsDigest reported Monday Barnes is expected to be the next coach at Tennessee.

When asked about Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall as a candidate at Texas, one source said Patterson didn't see Marshall as a good fit "personality wise" for Texas. Marshall has a reputation for being blunt and speaking his mind, which can come off the wrong way, at times, the sources said.

The sources said Patterson wants  a coach who will be totally engaging with Texas fans, someone who will energize the program and get Longhorns' fans excited. And Patterson, who is about to embark on serious fund-raising for UT's new basketball arena, feels like Smart and Wright fit those descriptions best, the sources said.

But, at this point, it's possible Patterson might not get past Smart, who has spent the past six years at VCU, taking the Rams to five straight NCAA tourneys, including the Final Four in 2011.

Like Patterson, Smart is a native of Wisconsin (Patterson is from Beaver Dam, and Smart is from Madison). One of the biggest selling points in addition to Smart's success on the floor (he's averaged 27.2 wins at VCU and has won 74.4 percent of his games) is Smart's personality.

"I think Steve Patterson wants a coach whose brand of basketball is exciting to watch and whose personality is exciting to engage with," one source said. "Shaka Smart has obviously liked to press teams full-court at VCU. But he's not going to impose that style on a team that isn't built for that. And with Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh at Texas next season, Smart wouldn't come in and start pressing with those guys and tiring them out. But he (Smart) obviously likes to press and increase tempo when he can, and that's entertaining to watch."

Smart has turned down numerous overtures from other schools the last five years, including Maryland, N.C. State, UCLA, Illinois and Marquette. But Smart is expected to accept the Texas job if offered, the sources said.

For what it's worth, VCU sports information director Scott Day said Monday night Texas has not asked for permission to talk to Smart. Messages left for Wright at Villanova weren't immediately returned.

Wright spent 7 seasons at Hofstra and the past 14 seasons at Villanova, where he's gone to the NCAA Tournament 10 of the last 11 years, including the Final Four in 2009, the Elite Eight in 2006 and Sweet 16s in 2005 and 2008.

 

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