Stream Of Consciousness – Shaka Smart Edition March 20, 2012
I considered seven different things to write about in the last two hours. I considered writing a summary of today’s events, but that’s been done. I considered a “here’s why we’ll get Shaka/here’s why we won’t” list. I was even standing in line at the grocery store tonight, staring at the magazines, thinking about how the “I’m being told that…” tweets today were like the “who’s beach body is THIS?” magazine I was looking at: nothing is real, all of it is fabricated, but it doesn’t matter. The hint of information inside makes the intended audience clamor for details.
(Why was I staring at the checkout line magazines? My phone was dead. By 6:15 pm. Because of Shaka.)
So I settled here: I’m going to just start typing and tell you where I’m at. A Stream of Consciousness post like football Friday nights. No editing – just type it all out and hit publish.
Please note that the majority of these thoughts will not be my own. I spent so much time reading message boards and Twitter today that I’ve no doubt adopted other people’s thoughts as my own. So I apologize in advance for any osmosis. I’m going to start typing now.
I set up a Monitter window at work today. Monitter allows you to real-time follow tweets about a certain subject. On one panel I put “Shaka Smart” and the other panel “Illini”. And as much as I tried to do work, I kept checking and checking and checking. It’s impossible not to. So when the North Carolina recruiting guy tweeted that Shaka Smart was in Wilmington looking at a recruit for VCU (yikes), I was on it. When Jon Rothstein tweeted that Shaka was likely staying at VCU, I was crushed. When Jeff Goodman refuted that claim and said that Smart has not given Illinois an answer yet – well, I was at the grocery store with a dead phone, so I didn’t find out about it until much later. But when I found out, I was right back to “he’s ours”.
When I combine that with the timeframe of Shaka turning down NC State last year, I started to get even more excited. Shaka’s Rams lost in the Final Four on Saturday evening, and by Monday afternoon he had turned down NC State’s $2 million per year offer. This time, Shaka’s Rams lost in the Round of 32 Saturday evening, and, well, it’s Wednesday in a few hours. HOPE.
But then I think about the fact that he was on the road recruiting for VCU today. According to this story, Smart watched Kadeem Allen work out in Wilmington, North Carolina and then chatted with his mother. Yes, this could just be a “business as usual” thing where he’s acting like the VCU head coach until the moment he isn’t, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Did he tell Allen’s mom “I know the story that I might take the Illinois job is all over ESPN and the internet, and I still haven’t decided, but I really think your son should come to VCU, even though I can’t guarantee I’ll be there Thursday.” I doubt that’s the way it went down. Which means he was recruiting a kid to come to VCU and play for him next season. Which makes me feel all gross.
And then I read Shannon Ryan’s article on Shaka.
Smart, 34, has met with Illinois, according to sources, and is mulling over the decision whether to stay at VCU, a team he guided to the Final Four last season. The often-grimy recruiting scene of Chicago is one concern that leaves Smart conflicted, sources said.
In hopes of luring Smart, Illinois has guaranteed facility renovations, a long-term contract and a salary near the top of the Big Ten. His annual compensation would be comparable to that of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who makes more than $3 million per year according to USA Today salary reports.
The thought of Mike Thomas, pre-approved to offer $3 million dollars per year and make Shaka Smart the 7th highest paid coach in college basketball, sent me back to my happy place. Which is almost a “if we have that kind of coin, we’ll get someone great even if Shaka turns us down” place. Top 10 money, meet our ascension to top-10 program. Maybe guys like Sean Miller really are in play here.
And all of that leads me here. There are enough stories out there claiming that “Smart is extremely happy at VCU” and “he did turn down NC State and Maryland last year” and “he can be the Mark Few of the east coast” to believe that there is some legitimacy to the concept. He’s making $1.2 million dollars per year and is the toast of the town – why not stay and build a mid-major powerhouse? It makes sense to me.
But then I shake off the thought and realize how dumb it is. Stay at VCU? Really? VCU won 28 games this year and finished 15-3 in their conference… and they still wouldn’t have made the tournament if they didn’t win their conference tourney. Could they improve that standing? I mean, sure, the Colonial is a nice little conference like the WCC, but good luck getting anyone to schedule VCU in the non-con (at least enough to raise the RPI enough to where 28-6 makes you a tourney lock). Without the backing of a BCS conference, mid-majors are left to hope for two things. One, that the other teams in the conference are strong enough to make it a multiple-bid conference, and two, that they can find enough opponents in the non-conference to boost their RPI. To me, staying relevant enough to win your conference tournament every year is a much bigger hurdle than the “grimy recruiting scene of Chicago”.
And here’s VCU’s television appearances in 2011/12: Three games on ESPN2. Four games on ESPNU. One game on Versus. And their conference tournament final on ESPN. With a TV schedule like that, no chance VCU could recruit the players to become a program that’s consistently relevant nationally. Yes, he’s a fantastic coach who could help them win their conference nearly every year. But, as Brad Stevens learned this year at Butler, without the players, winning consistently is hard. I still think Stevens is a great coach. It’s just really hard to select the best-of-the-rest recruits that can lead you back to the tournament. You have to move up when you have the chance. It’s how every coach from Billy Donovan to Thad Matta has played the game. Make some noise at a lower level, and then jump on your chance at the big show.
Which is why I’m hoping Shaka Smart will do exactly that. You know what’s cooler than a million dollars? A BILLION DOLLARS. You know what’s cooler than VCU? Illinois.
(I’m really gonna hate that one when he decides to stay tomorrow.)