When head coach Shaka Smart led VCU to the Final Four in 2011, it was assumed it wouldn't be long before he left. His was a story seen before: young coach, wildly successful, leads non-traditional basketball school to previously unforeseen heights. Soon after, a top-tier school offers the young coach a position, poaching him away from the school and kids.
But unlike others before him, Shaka Smart didn't leave.
As Smart usually tells it, it's because he loves VCU, loves coaching this program that has risen to an elite level, loves the, the people. Only that's not Smart's full story.
Smart didn't initially know his dad. Smart's father left for his native Barbados when Shaka was two years old. It was meant to be a two-week vacation, but Smart's father never returned. Later, when Smart was around 10 or 11 years old, his dad returned briefly, making amends with his mother and moving back in. It worked for a while, but Smart's father wasn't a positive influence, as Shaka tells it. It led to Smart's mother asking him to leave again. He did.
Now, Smart coaches a team with nine players raised without fathers. He has become, quite naturally, a father figure to these players. And, when he's being honest, it's part of why he hasn't left VCU.
"Coaches can rationalize staying or going for money or their families or their happiness, and those are all good reasons," Smart said. "But one thing I do understand is that I'm in a line of work where, in my own little world, my decisions impact a lot of people. And that really does matter to me."