Shaka SmartMen’s basketball
Shaka Smart swears by his formula for success: staying in the moment. The VCU men’s basketball coach refuses to dwell on the past, or contemplate the future, allowing him to concentrate on the task at hand. He teaches this philosophy to each of his players, because he believes it will guide them to their personal best.
While Shaka knows he’s judged partly by wins and losses, he says his focus includes each player’s achievements on and off the court. Ask him for the name of a key player and you may (or may not) be surprised to hear him cite the team’s academic adviser, Sofia Hiort-Wright, whom he describes as “an absolute superstar” and the most important part of VCU’s program.
There’s no shortage of role models in VCU’s locker room, either, as he is known to be a super achiever who holds a deep-seated passion for stretching his personal limits.
Shaka’s last name speaks for itself, as the Oregon, Wis.-native earned a near perfect SAT score, was
accepted to several Ivy League schools and graduated magna cum laude (from Kenyon College), then went on to earn a graduate degree while serving as an assistant coach.
There’s also a bit of foreshadowing in his first name, which stems from Shaka Zulu, a 19th-century southern African king who united hundreds of thousands of people. In 2011, the coach unified a city of 1.2 million as the Rams made a first-ever journey to the NCAA’s Final Four tournament.
Shaka says he’s always been a fan of VCU, based on the university’s dedication to excellence, and of its home city. Shortly after meeting his (now) wife, Maya, he returned from a recruiting trip to Virginia with a T-shirt displaying one of the commonwealth’s oldest slogans: “Virginia is for lovers,” telling her that, one day, the two would reside there. Today, he lives in the heart of the state, where he teaches student-athletes to pursue their dreams by focusing on the opportunities at hand.