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Shaka Smart: Happy to be home, even more excited to be at Marquette

The Shaka Smart era has begun in Milwaukee.

Marquette Athletics

The 2020-21 Marquette Golden Eagles season might’ve ended with a whisper, but the Shaka Smart era started with a bang — and a light show, plus a smoke machine.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marquette officially introduced Smart as its next head coach of the men’s basketball team, after news of his hiring made its rounds over the weekend.

“As a coach, Shaka has a proven track record of success on the court,” Marquette University president Michael Lovell said. “He’s hard-working, he’s innovative, and he’s already been to the Final Four. I know he will be successful on the court at Marquette. I also know he will be a leader off the court and make our campus and community better.”

The soon-to-be 44-year old coach is happy to be back in his home state, after serving the last six seasons as the head coach at Texas.

“Truly excited to be part of the Marquette nation,” Smart said. “Growing up in this part of the country, you couldn’t help but follow this basketball program. I was born in 1977, and one of the things I remember about a kid growing up watching basketball is I remember listening to Al McGuire as a broadcaster and getting to know his personality through listening to him at games. As I got more and more into the sport, I learned about what he did here and what the coaches that followed him did here, and truly understanding how special of a basketball program this is.”

Smart takes over for Steve Wojciechowski, who went 128-95 over his seven seasons at Marquette. Under “Wojo,” the Golden Eagles had moments of success in the regular season but consistently struggled in the postseason, only making it to the Big East Tournament semifinals once. Marquette also never made it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Golden Eagles went 13-14 this past season and 8-11 in conference play, before the season ended in a lopsided loss to eventual Big East Tournament champion Georgetown.

At Texas, Smart held a combined 109-86 record. The Longhorns won a NIT championship with him in 2019, but never had the same success in the NCAA Tournament. They never won a NCAA Tournament game and was recently upset by Abilene Christian in the 2021 tournament.

His greatest success came before that, at VCU, where he coached from 2009-15 and accumulated a 163-56 record. He guided the Rams to an improbable Final Four in 2011, and then took them back to the NCAA Tournament in each of the four years after that.

Although Smart is happy to be back in his home state, the Madison, Wisc. native had other reasons for landing at Marquette, other than just the sentimental feeling of being in Wisconsin again.

“Number one, this is a basketball crazy place and a basketball-centric athletic department,” Smart said. “I’m excited to learn about the success that all the other sports teams are having here, and I’m exciting about meeting those coaches, and at the same time I love that basketball is at the center of it all.

“Number two, it’s clear Marquette is about family and that goes beyond sports. That’s something that resonates with us, and when we talk about family that doesn’t stop when the boundaries of campus stop. ... Then, number three, the alignment. There’s a common vision, and it’s a shared vision I have.”

Smart notes that he hasn’t met with players yet in person, but looks forward to doing so soon. He believes that creating and fostering relationships will be crucial in establishing a culture and putting his stamp on the program.

Based on his early roster assessments, he feels that the Golden Eagles will be able to play a more high-speed type of style offensively and play with pace in half-court sets.

Defensively, he had been known for his trademark “Havoc” defense at VCU. Although it was slightly altered at Texas, the Longhorns still performed consistently well on that end of the court, ranking in the top 40 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, every season he was there.

Whether Havoc returns remains to be seen, but Smart feels it will depend on finding a style of play that suits his roster best. Some things will definitely carry over though.

“I’ve always loved playing an aggressive branded defense, being disruptive to the other team,” Smart said. “At VCU, we called it havoc, but really that was more of a mentality than any other particular full-court press or way of defending. It was more of a mindset that, ‘Hey, we’re going to take you out of what you’re trying to do.’ And that’s exactly how we want to play here.”

While Marquette administration and its fans are excited for a brighter future and the start of the 2021-22 season, Smart looks forward to meeting current players, committed recruits, and laying down the foundation for a recruiting network at his new school.

He’s also excited for a fresh start and what the future holds.

After the 2014 debacle, where Smart was considered for the job, but the school opted for Wojciechowski, this time, it’s really a #DoneDeal.

“Again, I grew up about an hour from here,” Smart said. “I was born in Madison, spent my whole childhood in Wisconsin, and it’s phenomenal being back, but the reason I came back was Marquette. That’s why I’m here.”