Shaka Smart celebrates VCU basket like a madman (GIF)

Shaka SmartShaka Smart’s VCU Rams may have blown a lead against Stephen F. Austin and been sent home packing early from the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean the coach didn’t give us a memorable moment before his exit. Check out that great GIF of Shaka going nuts to celebrate a basket his players made before blowing the game.

And you wonder where the Rams get their energy for the havoc defense? Ha! It all starts at the top!

Shaka Smart reportedly being targeted by UCLA and USC

Shaka SmartShaka Smart quickly became one of the hottest coaching names in college basketball after leading Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four in 2011 in just his second season as a head coach. Two seasons later, he remains a top head coaching target, and rival programs UCLA and USC reportedly have their sights set on the 35-year-old.

UCLA fired Ben Howland Sunday. ESPN’s Andy Katz reports that athletic director Dan Guerrero is locked in on Smart as his top candidate to replace Howland.

USC fired Kevin O’Neill in January and is looking for someone to replace interim coach Bob Cantu. The LA Daily News’ Scott Wolf reports that the Trojans are also interested in Smart.

Smart has championed a “havoc” defense that features an up-tempo, pressing style. His coaching style has helped him compile an impressive 111-37 (.750) record in four seasons. He signed an eight-year contract extension with VCU in 2011 and turned down the Illinois job last year.

Would Smart be willing to leave VCU? Would a job like the UCLA one be enough to entice him to head to LA? It’s difficult to say, but he might feel more prepared for the big time now that he has been a head coach for four seasons.

If either school lands Smart — and we don’t think that happens — it would set their program up for success for many years. Another interesting thought to consider is a wild one floated by former UCLA star and current FOX Sports analyst Marques Johnson. Johnson suggested that Howland could go to USC and compete against the program that fired him. Now that would blow my mind if it happened.

Shaka Smart had his players sign bracket showing VCU in Sweet 16 (Picture)

VCU was one of the stunning stories of last year’s NCAA Tournament when they reached the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. This year they’re a No. 12 seed, and a lot of people were calling their opponent — No. 5 seed Wichita State — “the VCU” of the tournament. That story didn’t last long as VCU beat Wichita St. 62-59 in the first round of the tournament Thursday.

Smart revealed after his team’s win that he used “the VCU” line as part of his speech to his squad to remind them nobody else was VCU. He also had all his players sign a bracket that showed VCU advancing to the Sweet 16 to help them visualize their preseason goal.

“When they signed, they’re saying, ‘I’m all in. I’m going to do everything it takes to accomplish this goal,'” Smart explained, per Jeff Eisenberg.

Some people may consider the tactic phony or lame, but I’m big on goal visualization. You have to see yourself doing something in order for it to happen, and that’s exactly what Smart is preaching. We’re seeing once again why Smart is one of the top coaches in the game, and why VCU’s prediction that they’re back to bust our brackets again may prove to be correct.

VCU will face No. 4 seed Indiana on Saturday.

Picture via Jeff Eisenberg

Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart Prove Elite Coaching Can Get You to the Final Four

The Final Four is set, and the four teams headed to Houston are Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler, and Virginia Commonwealth. While both Kentucky and Connecticut are from power conferences and have the pedigree to warrant a Final Four berth, many people are surprised to see Butler return and VCU to be there at all.

Both Butler and VCU did not build their teams recruiting 4 and 5-star high school players, and you won’t find many McDonald’s All Americans on their rosters. Neither school is an NBA player factory unlike their colleagues in the Final Four. So how did Butler and VCU get to college basketball’s ultimate stage? Superior coaching is how.

All four schools have elite coaches, and in the case of Butler and VCU, their two coaches are some of the best around, and have the brains, organization, and personalities to get their kids to play at a high level.

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Shaka Smart Named After Zulu Chieftain

VCU has become the darling of the NCAA Tournament this year, developing into this year’s Butler (which incidentally could also be said about this year’s Butler). Their head coach is Shaka Smart who has emerged as a leading candidate for several bigger jobs after helping his team make its stunning run.

VCU’s Final Four run has led to several headlines involving play-on-words for Smart’s last name. Though his surname seems befitting for the genius it’s taken to lead such an improbable ride, it’s his first name that is most notable to me.

Yahoo! Sports’ The Dagger explains how Shaka got his first name. Jeff Eisenberg writes “Smart’s father, a native of Trinidad, named him after the influential Zulu chieftain Shaka, who united much of Southern Africa under his leadership in the early 1800s.”

Could Smart have had a more appropriate first name? The man who’s led VCU to the Final Four named after a man who united Southern Africa? It’s unique, and it fits. I love it.

Thanks to Sports by Brooks Live for passing it along.