Shaka Smart Grabbing Attention of Basketball World During VCU’s Giant-Killing Run to Final Four

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March 27, 2011

Shaka Smart Grabbing Attention of Basketball World During VCU's Giant-Killing Run to Final Four Editors note: At the conclusion of each day of the men’s NCAA tournament, NESN.com staff will pick that day’s “Biggest Winner.”

Shaka Smart still has some work to do with his Virginia Commonwealth team this season. While his team’s future is still undecided, there is one glaring certainty to Smart’s future — he’s going to be very, very successful, no matter where he’s frantically pacing the sidelines.

It’s a painfully obvious statement, but it’s worth repeating. Perhaps no one has gained more this tournament than Smart, who has become this year’s equivalent of his next adversary, Butler head coach Brad Stevens.

And like Stevens, Smart likely has a big payday coming for him, whether it be in Richmond with VCU, or whether it be somewhere else. If he wants to leave the Rams, he’ll likely be able to hand pick his next stop after becoming only the third 11-seed to reach the Final Four.

It’s easy to look at your mangled bracket and understand why. He just keeps winning. However, it’s been what we’ve seen out of Smart himself that has helped his stock rise so much.

When the cameras were allowed into the VCU locker room following its third-round win to clinch the school’s first Sweet 16 berth, Smart showed that he is obviously a coach that is not only well-liked, but more importantly, one who is clearly able to his players. He is, after all, only 33 years old.

Maybe that ability to connect with his players, along with an obvious knack for X’s and O’s, is what has been most valuable in Smart’s ability to get the most out of his team with everything on the line. Smart had all the ammo in the world as many “experts” questioned the inclusion of the Rams in the tournament to begin with. He knew what buttons to push, and he’s pushed them all the way to the Final Four.

Along that road the to the Final Four, something telling happened. Smart oversaw the transformation of his team from a mid-major trying to prove everybody wrong, to a legitimate contender that believed in itself with swagger to spare. He’s got them executing like a well-oiled machine.

“Our guys have done a phenomenal job of putting all the doubters aside, all the people that didn’t believe in us, and going out to do their job,” he said after his team’s win on Sunday.

Smart could be seen on the sidelines on Sunday afternoon crouched in a defensive stance, shuffling his feet along with the action on the court during more than one Kansas possession. It was Smart doing everything he could short of going onto the court to help his team win.

He’ll won’t be able to get out on that court, of course. For Smart, he’ll have to continue to pull the strings from the sideline. Even with the breakout coach on the sideline, VCU will probably still be overlooked by all the so-called experts.

Smart’s been there before, though. You could almost say he’s got them right where he wants them. Regardless, Smart has proven in the last week or two that he’s a winner, and he’s likely here to stay.

NESN’s college basketball coverage is presented by Bodog.net.

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