Coach Resource: Shaka Smart on Recruiting

Paul Biancardi Interview, ESPN (

In advance of the start of the new era, we sat down with Smart to talk about his recruiting philosophies and the challenges he’s encountered since leaving Richmond for Austin:

In your first three months on the job, what have been some of the most important things you’ve had to do from a recruiting perspective?

The single biggest thing has been to get out and meet people. Our staff, with the exception of Jai Lucas, is new to the state, and this is a big state with different high school and AAU programs with talented players and coaches. The biggest key was getting out and meeting as many people as possible, to help people understand how we are going to run our program and how we are going to interact with our guys.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to evaluating a prospect?

It all starts with our five core values. We want guys who fit into who we are as people, and who we strive to be. Appreciation, enthusiasm, competiveness, unselfishness and accountability. We have shared the definition of those values in our program that we ask our guys to learn and know. If we can recruit people who fit into that, it’s a whole lot easier than trying to turn someone into believing in those things.

From a basketball standpoint, we play an aggressive style so we look for aggressive guys, we want guys who are going to play together. Competitive guys and length are important because we want to get our hands on the basketball whenever we can.

Has your recruiting philosophy changed from VCU to Texas?

To some extent yes and to some extent no. We still want the same type of person as who we are as a program. As I mentioned, the enthusiasm part of it is big — we look for players who have a passion for the game and love to win and hate to lose, but the style of play is going to be different early. At VCU we didn’t have a lot of bigs — we had one or two and rotated a bunch of guards around them. Here at Texas in this first year and moving forward, if we do a good job recruiting we will have more big guys in the future to throw the ball inside more. We will always be aggressive but it will be more of a balanced approached position-wise.

VCU didn’t have football, while Texas has one of the most prominent football programs in the nation — how do you utilize it in the recruiting process?

I think its great to have a football program that gets so much attention and that’s so well-supported. I was an assistant coach at both Florida and Clemson that had very successful football teams, and we used their success to help demonstrate the excitement that we had at our school. When you bring kids here for a football game, obviously they get a great sense of our following for athletics. I think when the football team does well it’s great for everyone.

There is so much talent in the state of Texas — how are you making inroads?

Getting out and getting into as many gyms as possible. Meeting with high school coaches and AAU coaches as much as possible. It’s really important to build relationships and that’s what we are trying to do every day, but it takes time. We have been here for six months — there is no substitute for time. After being here for one, two, three years we will feel better. We have made progress in the time we have been here.

You have branded the term ‘Havoc,’ especially on the defensive end of the floor. Has there been a high-level player, whether at VCU or Texas that you could have gotten but didn’t fit the style you wanted to play?

No not really, because you always want to fit your style around who you have. I think a misconception about Havoc is that it was only our defense, and only pressing full court. There was a lot more to it. In fact, when we first got here a senior, Connor Lammert, asked me if he fit into the style of play, would he be able to play? I told him not only do you fit into our style and philosophy but you have the number one attribute we look for from a skill standpoint — you can shoot the ball from deep. He is 6-10 and can shoot threes to stretch out a defense. People forget when [VCU] went to the Final Four we made 66 threes in six games in the NCAA tournament — no one had ever done that and it’s still a record. You talk about our style of play — we got a lot of attention for the press, but it was actually being able to stretch the floor and make threes, multiple positions passing the ball and playing fast is what allowed us to excel.

If you could have two traits in a player what would they be?

I would say the biggest things we look for is No. 1 — does he see basketball as something he really needs? Does he just like to play or does he like what comes from playing? I think there is a big difference. If you get guys who love the game and have to be playing, that leads to competitiveness.

 The second trait that goes hand in hand with that: Are they willing to treat their game as their study? Do they want to grow in the game and learn the game? We have a freshman by the name of (ESPN 100 No. 45) Eric Davis who knows he has a lot to get better at it. He is a student of the game, he watches tape to study intricacies of the game, he spends extra time in the gym trying to perfect moves that he has seen. So if we can recruit guys who really need the game, and love to work on it and study it, that’s a great start.

When a recruit signs up to play for Shaka Smart what is he going to get?

I’m going to work extremely hard for you. I am a younger coach so I don’t have 30 years of head coaching experience, but what I do have is a great deal of enthusiasm about working with our guys and helping them move forward as people and players. I am not saying I work harder than other coaches out there but I will say this: when I hit the practice court, or with our guys one-on-one watching tape together, I am highly committed to them and helping them.

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