David Cason hates to fly. He likes those big Philly pretzels even less. That can be a tough combination for a basketball coach known to be a great recruiter, as Cason is. When you’re in the air throughout the recruiting process and grabbing food when it’s most convenient, the best choice is sometimes the only choice.
Cason, the new VCU assistant coach who was hired in April to replace new Rice University head coach Mike Rhoades, is at odds with his boss in that way.
“We’ve flown through Philly a few times and he keeps getting those pretzels at the airport,” Cason says, laughing a hearty and earnest laugh. “I hate them and he’s killing them. He will eat three or four and I have to give him a hard time.”
That’s about the only area in which Cason and Shaka Smart disagree. Notably, Cason stresses the importance of relationships in his job.
“I emphasize the relationships. They are very important to me,” he says. “I’m an older brother so I understand what it’s like to take care of people younger than me. Most importantly I love watching the development of kids on and off the court. That encompasses everything (relating to) recruiting, too. People say recruiting is hard, but when they understand you’re building a relationship recruiting is not hard.”
It was his relationship with assistant coach Jeremy Ballard that put Cason on the VCU radar. Though Cason came to Broad Street after three seasons at Vanderbilt, he and Ballard coached together at Tulsa for five years. Cason was the associate head coach the final three seasons at Tulsa and in 2010 was named by Conference USA head coaches as the league’s top assistant coach.
Ballard and Cason are friends, and like in most professions colleagues talk. Coaches are no different, talking about their programs with each other, comparing notes and happenings. When Rhoades took the Rice job, the conversation was natural.
“We talked and I asked what coach Smart was looking for and Jeremy just kind of asked me ‘would you be interested?,” says Cason. “In our profession you don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but I was excited about it. I told him I’d be interested and would love to talk to Coach if there was mutual interest.”
Cason had spent time with Smart on the recruiting trail so the pair had already begun building a relationship. Cason shares Smart’s belief in relationships and positivity. His approach is very similar to Smart.
“I told coach and I believe it,” Cason says, “I coach my kids hard and I love them harder.”
It’s safe to say there was mutual interest.
Cason is in charge of the point guards at VCU, both on and off the court. It’s another natural progression. As a player, he transferred from the College of Southern Idaho to Illinois State. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in assists both seasons for the Redbirds.
In his senior year, Cason established the school’s single-game assists record with 16. He is still the Redbirds’ all-time leader in career assists per game with 6.0.
“It’s been fun with those guys, Briante, JeQuan, Torey, and Johnny,” he says. “I’m getting extremely close with these young men and the most important thing to me is that they are listening. They’ve accepted me with open arms. I know I have big shoes to fill.”
Because The Fates are a fickle trio, Cason will return to Normal, IL on December 2 when VCU plays a return game at Illinois State. It will be a happy homecoming.
“I had a fantastic experience at Illinois State,” he says. “My wife (Tamara) is an Illinois girl and we won some games, and as a result my experience and my memories will be forever grateful. Everyone’s experience should be like mine, a great one. It’s exactly how I want it to be at VCU.”
It does seem a natural fit, this David Cason at VCU thing. His humility is evident right off the bat, and he’s interested in talking about anything but himself. He’s been at North Carolina, TCU, and Notre Dame and carries a suitcase full of experience. However he’s learning VCU, and he loves it.
“From all the places I’ve been what I’ve noticed that is very different is the speed and the style of which the program is run,” he says. “Everything is done at a fast pace, and you hear about it, but once you’re a part of it and get to be a part of the nuance you’re like ‘wow this is REALLY fast.’”