Shaka Smart, who spent last season as an assistant coach at the University of Florida, has been named head men’s basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Smart is the 10th head coach in the program’s 41-year history. He replaces Anthony Grant, who accepted an offer to become the head coach at the University of Alabama on March 27, 2009.
“I am thrilled to be a part of VCU basketball,” Smart said. “I can’t wait to hit the ground running. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great coaches over the years, from Billy Donovan, to Oliver Purnell to Keith Dambrot, who have helped me prepare for this moment.”
Considered one of the brightest young minds in the Division I ranks today, Smart was the clear choice among an excellent pool of candidates. Of the schools to earn a Sweet 16 berth in this year’s NCAA Tournament, 12 had assistants express interest in the VCU opening.
“Through the vetting process of hiring someone to lead our program, we spoke with some of the nation’s top head and assistant coaches, men who came highly recommended from the biggest names in college basketball,” said VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague. “Shaka stood out amongst all of them. In Shaka, we have found someone who we knew without a shadow of a doubt could continue the excellence established by VCU basketball.”
Smart inherits a program that has won three straight Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles and has appeared in two NCAA tournaments in the last three seasons. VCU has earned three NCAA bids since 2004 and has captured three CAA Tournament Championships in that span.
“Coach Smart has a great foundation on which to continue to build a successful men’s basketball program,” VCU President Eugene P. Trani said. “I have no doubt that he will extend our winning tradition.”
Smart said the tradition and success of VCU Men’s Basketball “were big draws.”
“It is obvious to me that Dr. Trani and Norwood Teague are willing to dedicate the effort and the resources needed to compete at the highest level,” Smart said. “It’s my desire to keep that momentum moving forward. There is amazing potential here at VCU.”
At every stop of his career, Smart, 32, has brought success with him. Last season, Smart helped the Gators to a 25-11 mark, the fifth most in school history, and a berth in the NIT Quarterfinals.
Prior to Florida, Smart served as an assistant coach under Oliver Purnell at Clemson from 2006-08. During his tenure, Smart helped the Tigers to 49 wins and back-to-back postseason appearances, including an NCAA Tournament berth in 2008.
Smart had a positive effect on Clemson in his first year, aiding the Tigers to a 25-11 record and NIT Championship game appearance. The 25 victories and 17-0 start tied 20-year old Clemson records. The Tigers appeared in the top 25 of the USA Today coaches’ poll for eight consecutive weeks.
Additionally, Smart has been credited for his work on the recruiting trail, playing a significant role in the Tigers’ landing of top 100 recruits Catalin Baciu, Terrence Oglesby and Milton Jennings. While at Florida, he helped the Gators land the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com, including McDonald’s All-American guard Kenny Boynton.
Smart spent three seasons as an assistant at the University of Akron from 2003-06. In 2005-06, he helped the Zips to a 23-10 record, the school’s highest victory total since it became a Division I program in 1980-81.
The Zips also defeated Temple in the first round of the NIT for the school’s first Division I postseason triumph. In two seasons working under Head Coach Keith Dambrot, Smart helped Akron to a 42-20 record.
Smart worked for Purnell at Dayton as director of basketball operations from 2001-03. During that time, the Flyers posted a 45-17 record and won the 2003 Atlantic 10 Championship. The 2002-03 squad finished 24-6 and earned an NCAA bid.
Prior to his time at Dayton and immediately after graduating from college, Smart served as an assistant coach at California University of Pennsylvania. The school had a 40-16 combined ledger those two seasons. While he worked at California (Pa.), Smart earned his master’s degree in social science.
Smart played his college basketball at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and graduated magna cum laude in 1999 with a degree in history. A four-year starter and three-year captain, he holds Kenyon single season (184) and a career (542) assist marks. As a senior, he was an All-North Coast Conference selection and was the NCAC Scholar Athlete of the Year. He was one of 20 students selected for the 1999 USA Today All-USA Academic team and received a NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
Originally hailing from Madison, Wis., Smart married the former Maya Payne on May 20, 2006.