Illinois Can’t Get Smart

VCU coach Shaka Smart is well on his way to stealing Bill Watterson's spot as the most famous alumnus of Kenyon College. Photo by Don Ryan (AP), courtesy of cnnsi.com.

Shaka Smart has apparently rejected the overtures of the University of Illinois in favor of remaining the head coach of the VCU Rams.

Any good news for VCU is anathema to most ODU Monarchs fans, but I take the view that what’s good for the ODU-VCU rivalry is good for ODU, and Smart’s decision to stay is definitely good for the rivalry.

Smart has built on what predecessors Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant accomplished during their respective VCU coaching tenures. Smart’s record in three seasons at VCU is 86-27 and includes a trip to last year’s Final Four. Perhaps the most striking indication that VCU is becoming a national name in college basketball is that the Rams’ second-round loss to Indiana in the NCAA tournament is viewed in some circles as a sign that the proud Hoosier program has emerged from the wilderness at last.

(Of course, the VCU game will be quickly eclipsed should the Hoosiers win their upcoming rematch with Kentucky and advance to the Elite Eight. But can Indiana really expect to reprise the magical ending of their December victory over UK?)
 

Perhaps it’s hopelessly naïve, but I like to think that Smart’s decision represents a choice for loyalty to his players (especially local products Darius Theus and Briante Weber, who played key roles this year) rather than a fear of following in the footsteps of Capel, who was unceremoniously booted by Oklahoma and is now an assistant at Duke.

The guy on the left would still be coaching the Oklahoma Sooners if all his players had been as good as the guy on the right. Photo by David Bradley, courtesy of Duke Athletics.

In any event, ODU fans can rest assured that they when they boo the Rams mercilessly every year, they will be booing a squad led by a formidable head coach.

At least until Billy Donovan leaves Florida.

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