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Ram fans prepare for ultimate offseason test

Shaka Smart has guided the Rams to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and has turned VCU into a national player in his six seasons on Broad St.
Shaka Smart has guided the Rams to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and has turned VCU into a national player in his six seasons on Broad St.

How many times have you watched a college basketball game and heard a TV personality comment on a player’s almost automatic accuracy at the free throw line, only to watch him miss back-to-back attempts after said comment?

Seems like it happens all the time, right? The jinx is always perfectly timed and you’re always watching when it happens.

Well Shaka Smart is at the free throw line and VCU fans are hoping for nothing but net.

Since VCU’s 2011 Final 4 run VCU’s head coach has been arguably the hottest commodity in coaching. Smart kicked off his VCU loyalty campaign by immediately removing himself from consideration of an NC State job he had reportedly been offered.

Illinois came calling in 2012. Smart passed again.

2013 brought interest from Minnesota — home to former Smart boss, Norwood Teague — as well as an option to lead UCLA to their 12th national title. No dice.

Last offseason Smart was reported to be a “done deal”  as the new coach of Marquette and on his way to a press conference in his home state of Wisconsin that never happened. Crisis averted.

Finally, people were getting used to the idea that Coach Smart might in fact be a VCU lifer, passing on opportunities to lead other programs to the promised land in exchange for a chance to do the same with a VCU team he has built to a level thought unimaginable just years prior. Smart was money at the line for Ram fans.

CBS’s Gary Parrish wrote an insightful article on the reasons Smart remained on Broad St., citing early relationships where Smart had been first left by his father, then later as a college basketball player at Kenyon College where he saw father figure, head coach Bill Brown, leave him after just one season.

Smart said he cried for three days.

“Honestly, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed at VCU. What happened to me is a factor”, Smart told Parish.

The bond Smart has built at VCU with his players, many of whom lack a father figure just as Smart did, helped folks around the country finally understand why the king of havoc has remained loyal to the Rams.

VCU fans, like myself, gobbled this up. A new sense of confidence and a diminished fear of the yearly coaching carousel washed over us all.

Then, this weekend news broke that the Texas Longhorns officially parted ways with head coach Rick Barnes after 17 season in Austin.

Barnes led the Longhorns to 16 NCAA tournaments over that span including five Sweet 16s, three Elite 8 appearances and one Final 4, but has failed to advance Texas to the second weekend of tournament action since the 2008 Elite 8.

He became the second major coach at Texas to get the axe under new AD Steve Patterson, joining former longtime football coach, Mack Brown (16 seasons that included one national championship), who was let go in the first year (2013) of Patterson’s reign.

Speculation immediately pointed toward Smart and Wichita State head coach Greg Marshall, with Smart rumored to be the front-runner, a rumor our sources have confirmed.

CBS’s Jeff Goodman has reported Smart has “heavy interest” in the job, a job that would likely double Smart’s salary and give him easier access to the McDonald’s All-Americans coaches crave in their quest for March success. Add those mutual interests and things get real for Ram fans.

Can the relationships formed between Smart and his players actually compete with an athletics department that boasts its own television network and recently posted a record high $165.7 million in operating revenue?

We’re about to find out.

Parish ended his article by stating the following:

He typed letters that were sweet but pointless, cried tears that were real but wasted, heard that door that wouldn’t shut just slam really loudly, and he still remembers all of it.

“I’m completely against the idea that if you stay at a place you’re a great guy, and if you leave you’re all about money or whatever; that’s such a played-out thing,” Smart said. “Coaches can rationalize staying or going for money or their families or their happiness, and those are all good reasons. But one thing I do understand is that I’m in a line of work where, in my own little world, my decisions impact a lot of people. And that really does matter to me.”

The perfect cliffhanger and one setup in the form of the classic free throw jinx.

Smart has shot 100% from the stripe for Ram fans these past four offseasons in which his name has been the hottest on the market.

Hands up Ram fans…we need these next two.

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