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LANCE BLANKS: THE SHAKA SMART IMPACT

Very excited to have Longhorn basketball legend LANCE BLANKS offering his insights on Texas basketball and all things basketball for the HornsDigest community!

Lance Blanks was a member of Texas' BMW scoring machine along with Travis Mays and Joey Wright that took Texas to the Elite Eight in 1990 ...

... a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons (1990) ...

... scout for the San Antonio Spurs (2000-02)

... scouting director of the Spurs (2002-05) ...

... assistant GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers (2005-10)  ...

... GM of the Phoenix Suns (2010-13) ...

... and now an analyst for ESPN on LHN.

 

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BY LANCE BLANKS

 

Last April, then-Texas athletic director Steve Patterson managed to bring one of the most sought-after coaches in college basketball to Austin to coach the Texas Longhorns. 

Shaka showed up in Austin with a quiet Zen-like swagger, a trip to the Final Four under his belt and five core values:  

Appreciation

Enthusiasm

Competitiveness

Accountability …

… and something he calls Teamship,” which is a version of selflessness. 

In less than 12 months, Shaka Smart has managed to exceed every expectation he faced when he took the job with the demanding, resource-rich University of Texas athletic program. 

He has succeeded in instilling his values and identity on the program while simultaneously catching the attention of pundits and fans across the nation. 

Over the course of this season, I’ve observed Shaka through the lenses of all the roles I’ve filled in the sport of basketball. 

These include college player, professional player, NBA scout and General Manager and currently LHN analyst. 

After 30 games and a record of 19-11, it’s safe to say that Longhorn basketball fans are in great hands with Shaka Smart leading the program. 

I attribute Shaka’s early magic at Texas to three important factors top tier coaches must have: 

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: 

Shortly after Shaka’s initial press conference in Austin, he took 33 seconds on YouTube to announce to all Longhorn Basketball alumni they have “complete access" to the program. 

He doubled down by quickly building rapport and establishing relationships with all of his new players. 

One of the biggest rewards for his efforts was starting point guard Isaiah Taylor deciding to stay at the University for his junior year although he strongly considered putting his name in the 2015 NBA draft. 

Shaka's genuine approach with the players, in and around the program, has created positive synergy and excitement. 

This exuberance manifests itself through the team's approach to the game. 

Players often give up their bodies to take charges or dive on 50-50 balls during the course of games. 

In a matter of a few months, Shaka has created a winning culture around the program and grabbed the attention of the nation. 

RESILIENCE: 

This season has presented its particular set of challenges, as most seasons do. 

First there were over 17,000 miles of travel in the first month of play. 

Then came the 2-3 start. If that wasn’t enough adversity for season, one of Coach Smart’s best players, Cam Ridley, broke his foot 2 games before conference play began. 

While trying to redefine themselves after the Ridley injury, the Horns found themselves looking at another hurdle when they were backed against the wall at 1-2 to start conference play. 

None of these setbacks stopped Coach Smart's determined and positive spirit. 

Amid all the challenges of the season, Shaka's Longhorns managed to beat no less than five top-ranked teams (UNC, Iowa State, West Virginia, Baylor and Oklahoma). 

Shaka has conditioned his team to withstand the type of adversity that would crumble most teams. 

PREPARATION: 

Shaka coaches a disciplined-but-loose style that is “Taylor" made for prime time tournament play. 

I say loose because you never see players looking to the sideline for approval of shot selection or decision-making.  

Watching him on the sidelines, it often looks as if he is telling each player to “love thy self, love thy teammate and love the game.” 

He encourages a positive and aggressive approach to the game by each player. The confident attitude of his players comes from countless hours of being challenged and encouraged through the course of the season.  

Shaka prepares his team to compete against the best with a "yes we can" approach to each game. 

For instance, this season the Longhorns have frustrated the likes of Oklahoma’s All-American Buddy Hield and Baylor’s rebounding machine Rico Gathers, forcing each of them to play outside of their comfort zone and press during the games they played against each player’s team. 

This success in execution of their game plan resulted in Texas splitting the home and away series against both teams. Very few people gave Texas much of a chance against either of these teams. 

With only one regular season game left against Oklahoma State, Shaka has the Longhorn nation excited and the team peaking at the right time. 

The Longhorns have a dangerous combination of attributes for opponents to compete against in March: a prepared and talented group of individuals with a coach who genuinely believes in them. 

It's the perfect recipe for March Madness success. 

Buckle your seat belts Longhorns fans.  

Shaka and these impressive athletes are positioned and prepared to take you on a great ride.

 

 


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