Did anyone else notice the enthusiasm Shaka Smart displayed Sunday during Virginia Commonwealth's 71-61 win over Kansas in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament?
Smart, a former University of Akron assistant basketball coach, routinely shows his excitement and passion for the game as the Rams second-year coach. His players see the emotion and have responded, earning a spot in the Final Four.
Smart delivered a pregame speech to his players that CBS televised before the game. In case you missed it, he said: "The opportunity in front of us today is this, 40 minutes, it's about 70 possessions on offense and 70 possessions on defense. Let's make every single one of them count. Today, we go after them, we run on them and we lock them up. Today, we're punching our ticket to the Final Four. Let's go guys! Let's get after these guys!"
The No. 11 seeded Rams (28-11) then took the floor and handled the No. 1 seed Jayhawks (35-3).
VCU played with a confidence and swagger that Smart instills in them. VCU led 41-27 at halftime.
Jamie Skeen led the Rams with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Brandon Rozzell contributed 12 points. Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess both chipped in nine points and five rebounds.
"What more can I say about this group of guys? Every time this group is doubted, they respond in an overwhelming way and today was no different," Smart after the game. "There was not one media outlet that picked us to win today, but those 14 guys knew that they could and that's all that matters."
Media members did praise VCU during the game, especially when Smart was gesturing to his players to get into a defensive stance. CBS analyst Steve Kerr said during one Kansas possession: "Look at Shaka Smart. It's like 6-on-5, VCU has an extra defender out there."
ESPN's Jay Bilas, Andy Katz and Dick Vitale are high on Smart's coaching ability. Marv Alberts, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony also praised Smart and his team on CBS.
D.J. Haley, Ed Nixon, Juvonte, Reddic, Darius Theus, Rob Brandenburg and Toby Veal are other key VCU players.
Smart, who turns 34 on April 8, was an assistant coach at UA from 2003-2006. He served under Dan Hipsher for one season and under Keith Dambrot for two seasons.
Smart came to UA after being assistant coach at California (Pa.) from 1999-2001 and serving as the Director of Basketball Operations at Dayton from 2001-2003. Following his stint with the Zips, Smart worked as an assistant to Oliver Purnell at Clemson from 2006-2008 and then as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida from 2008-2009.
VCU plays Butler in one national semifinal Saturday, and Connecticut and Kentucky meet in the other national semifinal. The final is Saturday.