Shaka Smart is a man who has had great success wherever he’s been.
That success, though, is something he’s never stumbled upon.
No, you don’t get to where he is – a little over two months being the head coach of the Longhorns – by chance. It’s something he’s earned.
It’s been easy to see why he’s been one of the hottest names in the college basketball coaching community over the last few years given the frantic pace in which he’s recruited on the 40 Acres. You’d be hard-pressed to find a program that’s had more high-profiled recruits on its campus in two months than Texas’.
He’s also gotten to know his team a lot better – both on and off the court – as they collectively look to, at worst, get UT to its first Sweet 16 since 2008.
“First couple of months have been hectic,” Smart said on a conference call on Monday. “That’s a word most first year coaches would use. It’s been really good. The best thing about it is the things that matter most have gone terrific.”
By that, Smart means the players “and their level of engagement” in the new staff and what they need to do to keep moving in the right direction.
“It’s been really, really good,” Smart said. “We are fortunate here where we are taking over a team with some seniors, some guys that have been around and some guys that have experienced a certain level of success in terms of going to the NCAA Tournament. Part of the reason I am here is people want more. They want more success.
“The biggest thing I’ve been excited about is they’ve rolled up their sleeves and guys have come up to us and say, ‘Hey, tell me how you want us to do things.’ Their response has been terrific.”
So what has Smart learned about a team that returns tons of experience, including star point guard Isaiah Taylor, who we hear was leaning toward entering the NBA Draft even shortly after Smart’s hiring?
“With the young guys we have coming in [freshmen Eric Davis, Kerwin Roach and Tevin Mack] I think we will have really good depth around the perimeter, knock on wood we can stay healthy,” he said. “I think those guys can help us. We have some guys returning there too.”
The front court includes a unique blend of size [Cameron Ridley and Shaquille Cleare, who sat out last year after transferring from Maryland, are both above 280 pounds], and skill sets [Prince Ibeh could be a top 5 defender in the Big 12 and Connor Lammert can space the floor with his outside game]. But Smart admits he isn’t sure how he’s going to use them yet.
“Up front we have some guys with a variety of different components that they bring to the table,” he said. “If we can get them working well together it’s going to be a really good year of bigs.”
Smart said it’s been “refreshing” for he and his staff to come in to a place like Texas without any “preconceived notions.” He’s been able to lay the foundation for this program the way he wants it, without any hesitation.
“We know the things that we really value as coaches and our emphasis is focusing on areas of the game they control,” he said. “…The biggest challenge is going to be fitting everyone together, integrating these guys in to one cohesive unit and getting them to understand what’s most important to us as coaches.”
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