Shaka Smart and why it pays to have patience with college basketball coaches

Texas men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart had an exciting weekend with a win at West Virginia on Sunday, while cancer survivor Andrew Jones played a hat trick in the snow with his daughter in a rare winter snowstorm in the Lone Star State.

My daughter has never lived in a cold climate, and she may have seen snow once or twice, Slim said during his press conference on Monday. I wanted to make sure we were going to make it [Sunday].

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While the Longhorns’ 10-1 start to the season has made Smart a serious contender for the National Coach of the Year award, the unbridled joy has only increased since his arrival in Texas.

Smart’s previous participation in VCU, last time, had made it the sport’s hottest target. After leading the Rams to the Final Four in 2011, Smart tied for first place in multiple debuts; in fact, he was a veteran of varsity basketball. When he got to Austin, they said he chose the Longhorns, not the other way around.

However, in his sixth year, fans’ attention has been focused on his two NCAA tournament wins and zero victories. Toward the end of last season, rumors about his future and his connection to eight-figure transfer fees provoked a backlash from Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte.

Shaka is our coach, Del Conte told the Austin-American Statesman last season. Nothing has changed. We have won five of our last six games and finished third in the conference. We have a good team coming back. Nothing has changed on my end.

Error! The file name is not specified. The Texas Shaka Smart team is part of the 2020-21 season series. Ricardo B. Brazzill / American statesman via USA TODAY NETWORK.

This season, Smart looks to have a team capable of winning a national championship. Smart recently inflicted Bill Self of Kansas his biggest loss to Allen Fieldhouse, and the Longhorns are currently ranked as the top seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology.

Greg Brown and Kai Jones are among the top 25 players in the NBA, according to ESPN’s latest draft. The Longhorns rank 15th in KenPom in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, with four players averaging double-digit points.

Each college basketball coach is defined by his or her postseason resume, and Texas hired Smart to take the program to the next level, which Rick Barnes did with two elite eight appearances and a run in the final four while in Austin. It’s only natural for fans to expect NCAA Tournament success from a Power 5 school that has proven it can reach these heights.

But if Texas had given up on the outside noise and fired Smart, it would not have been successful this year. Sometimes it pays to be patient. Sports directors have never been in such a rush to respond to bad seasons as they are in the age of social media.

But what is realistic for Texas, a team that hasn’t reached its second weekend since 2008? Texas Tech, Houston and Baylor have become contenders for the national title, but Smart continues to recruit the top 100 talent and participate in the Big 12. He puts together teams that are competitive. Can another coach change that now?

Also: What is a reasonable wait for success? Jay Wright Villanova’s teams reached the TIN in their first three seasons. In fifth grade, however, he reached the elite eight. Mike Krzyzewski did not make it to the second round and did not make it to the national championship in his sixth year at Duke.

If this Longhorns team reaches its potential, with a possible March start and a Big 12 title, Smart will rewrite the story forever.

I believe any team that can succeed must have a common goal and be linked to that goal, Smart said.

He added that the link to this current group is strong and consistent. These qualities will perhaps allow him to reach his best season in Austin. Longhorn fans should be happy that he had the opportunity to reach this point.

Smart isn’t the only coach who can be more patient with the fans. Here’s a list of coaches who are under the microscope, but could make a difference in the coming years if given the chance.

Archie Miller, Indiana (63-48, fourth season)

You have to spend some time on the Indiana campus to understand the dedication, pressure and power of Hoosier basketball. I once reported on a game in Bloomington that took place when the conference room was three-quarters full during an ice storm that was accompanied by major power outages in other parts of the region. Indiana fans didn’t care. It’s their commitment to this program. The hype surrounding Miller is not about finding Bob Knight’s true heir. It’s an old hat. But fans know the program has all the tools a coach needs to build a Big Ten contender.

Error! The file name is not specified. Archie Miller and Indiana have made progress, but the Hoosiers are without a decisive win in the 2020-21 season. Stephen Branscomb – Sports in the United States Today

The Hoosiers have had some quality wins this season (against Stanford, Providence, Maryland) and also have the juice to build a resume worthy of the NCAA Tournament. The absence of Arman Franklin due to injury has already hurt Miller’s team, but Indiana is 8-5, including overtime losses to Wisconsin and Florida State. There are some positive signs among the inconsistency that afflicted Indiana fans during Miller’s tenure. With the possible return of Trace Jackson-Davis and the addition of Parker Stewart, Indiana could be next season – hopefully a more traditional season – as a serious threat to win the division.

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown (52-54, fourth season)

It never looks good when multiple players leave the program. The decisions of Mac McClung, James Akinjo and other former Georgetown players have only added to the doubts about the stability surrounding Ewing and his team. Add to that a 3-8 start this season – after last year’s 15-17 finish – and the emotions and fears are understandable. But it’s also important to know why the Hoyas hired the Ewings: to expand the reach and influence of the Georgetown brand.

The signing of five-star prospect Aminu Mohammed (No. 18 in the class of 2021) and two other four-star recruits for next season suggests the Ewing name still carries weight. When he took the job, the number one question about him was his ability to get into living rooms across the country and convince kids who hadn’t seen him play in the NBA to join him at Georgetown. The last lesson suggests he can still do it. Next season, when the team will have a strong scouting class, we will have to be very careful.

Error! The file name is not specified. Patrick Ewing has another tough season ahead of him at Georgetown, but the Hoyas have a replacement. Gregory Fischer-USA Sport

Richard Pitino, Minnesota Golden Gophers (137-112, eighth season)

Pitino was the subject of heated rumors for nearly half of his time in Minnesota. But Athletic Director Mark Coyle didn’t attack him. A 10-4 start to the season confirmed that confidence and Pitino’s third appearance at the NCAA Tournament should dispel some of his doubts. The Gophers need to understand what they are. They’ll almost always lose five-star locals to bluebloods – think Tyus Jones, Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, Jaylen Suggs, maybe Chet Holmgren (number one in the class of 2021 on – but the talent pool in Minnesota high schools is growing. Combine a few good recruits with players on the transfer market each season and you’ll be able to compete in the tournament. Pitino’s top three scorers this season – Gach (Utah), Marcus Carr (Pitt) and Liam Robbins (Drake) – started their careers elsewhere.

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I’m not sure anything will change drastically for the Gophers if they decide to fire Pitino. They got Tubby Smith. The same obstacles. It’s a program that can reach the NCAA Tournament every two years and maybe win a game or two in a few special seasons. Speculation around Pitino should be based on this reality.

Cuonzo Martin, Missouri Tigers (57-48, season 4)

From the questions I got when I spoke on a radio station in Kansas City, I think there was some concern around Missouri after the double-digit loss of the state of Mississippi last week. But the Tigers have already put their bad season behind them with a good start to the season that has seen them win against Oregon, Arkansas and Illinois. I will always believe that Martin’s entire tenure would have been changed by a healthy Michael Porter Jr. who only played a handful of games during the 2017-18 season due to injury. Her brother, Jontay Porter, tore his ACL and collarbone before the start of the 2018-19 season at Missouri. These injuries cannot be ignored when considering Martin’s tenure, which includes an NCAA tournament appearance in 2018.

Currently, the Tigers are in the process of writing a resume that justifies their participation in the postseason. Remember, the Tigers are just four years removed from Kim Anderson’s 8-24 campaign, which included NCAA sanctions under Frank Haight. Missouri could be competitive this season after some tough years in the highly regarded SEC Trade Center. That’s why Mr. Martin is a great example of what happens when administrators give coaches the time they need to build.


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