After six seasons manning the sidelines for the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, 37-year-old Shaka Smart has agreed to succeed Rick Barnes as the new head coach of the Texas Longhorns.
Terms of the deal were not revealed, but Longhorns fans should be incredibly excited over their team’s new man on campus.
Smart takes over a program that spent the last 17 seasons under the watch of Barnes, who accumulated a respectable record of 420-180 in that time. However, Barnes only managed three Big 12 regular season championships in that time and only got past the Sweet Sixteen three times.
Barnes’ sole Final Four appearance came in 2003, when his team was led by sophomore point guard sensation T. J. Ford, and the No. 1 Longhorns ultimately lost to the Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse Orange, a No. 3 seed.
Smart, on the other hand, went 163-56 in six seasons coaching VCU and won both a CAA and A-10 conference championship while in charge of the Rams.
In 2011, his team shocked the college hoops world in making the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, knocking off No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight to clinch such a berth. That alone makes Smart a, well, smart hire for Texas.
His signature havoc style, which combines constant full-court pressing and fast-paced offense, took a top program in Kansas out a few years back, and Texas has had a hard time keeping up with the Jayhawks in a Big 12 Conference that is getting more competitive year by year.
And Smart is going to have an uphill battle in his first season.
Freshman big man Myles Turner has just declared for the NBA draft, and the team’s roster will primarily consist of players that Barnes recruited. Fortunately, Smart has established a reputation as a strong recruiter, and his havoc game could prove to be just what the Longhorns need to become a Big 12 contender once again and hopefully bring the program its first ever conference title.
It also helps that Smart will be in a basketball recruiting hotbed in Texas, a state that has produced incredible talent like Chris Bosh, Julius Randle, and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler.
Moreover, he’ll have two of ESPN’s Top 100 recruits in guards Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach, Jr., the latter of whom could be a great fit for Shaka Smart’s playing style. Granted, both players are Barnes recruits and Barnes has recently agreed to be the new coach of Tennessee, but Smart needs to start somewhere and there’s no better way than with two top recruits at his disposal.
This means that Smart’s first season in Austin will likely be a transitionary one, with results slightly greater than or equal to the Longhorns’ overall performance in 2014-15 (20-14, 8-10 Big 12), and that’s assuming no other members of ESPN’s Top 100 like Cheick Diallo opt to sign with the Longhorns.
But after that, once Smart gets his recruiting wheels under him and has players suited to his style on the roster, Texas will rise again to become another perennial Final Four contender.
So long as AD Steve Patterson has patience and lets his new coach work his magic, the program can only improve from where it stands today.
And at that point, all thanks to Smart, the Longhorns will wreak major havoc both in the Big 12 and throughout college basketball.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports