RICHMOND, Va. — It seems like every basketball season, VCU Rams head coach Shaka Smart is rumored to be taking the next big college basketball job. And every year, so far, Smart has returned to VCU to coach the Rams another season.
People who know the 37-year-old coach well tend to brush off the “Shaka Watch” job rumors. They say Smart is not wired like most college basketball coaches eager to climb the coaching ladder.
And now, we all know why.
This week Smart opened up to CBS Sports college basketball insider Gary Parrish. He explained one of the big reasons why he has decided to stay at VCU, despite offers for more money at larger basketball programs, was because of something that happened to him as a child.
Smart’s father left his family. Then, as a college basketball player at Kenyon College, Smart’s head coach left after Smart’s first season on the team.
“I remember just crying for like three days,” Smart told Parrish. “I was 19 and lost because this guy [basketball coach Bill Brown] , my father figure, just left. And, honestly, that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed at VCU. It factors into my mind. It really does. What happened to me is a factor.”
Parrish pointed out nine of Smart’s players at VCU were raised in families without a father at home.
One player’s dad was murdered. Another player’s dad is in jail. There are multiple non-existent fathers because of addictions, either to drugs or alcohol.
“And then there’s just some absenteeism,” Smart said.
The byproduct of all that is that this fatherless 37-year-old now serves as the de facto father figure for the majority of the players on the VCU roster, and Smart shared his story with them, in great detail, for the first time, just before this season began.
“We had a team-bonding experience where we spoke about our backgrounds and everything,” VCU junior Melvin Johnson told Parrish. “Coach spoke last, and he told us about his father leaving him, and it made us get even more attached to him because the majority of us grew up just like him. We were like, ‘Wow.’ We had never heard that story before.”
The Rams take on the University of Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday in Richmond. The game is sold out.