The transfer portal is optional
Marquette, Virginia and the benefits of extremism
Shaka Smart is a tinkerer. He is always looking for a new way.
This impulse cost him at Texas. Smart arrived in Austin as the hottest guy in the sport, but one who had built his reputation at VCU by recognizing a market inefficiency — players 6-foot-6 or smaller, with infinite amounts of dog in them, willing to play 40 floor-slapping minutes of hard pressing basketball — and capitalizing on it. (He also branded it well. “Havoc” remains a fantastic brand name.)
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When he inherited the UT job from Rick Barnes, though, he inherited a very Rick Barnes roster, with a lumbering frontcourt recruited to stand on the low block, put one hand in the air, and call for the ball. So Smart tried to evolve. He played to his first players’ strengths. His VCU teams were universally fast-paced, floor-spreading, turnover-gobbling accelerationists. His first Texas teams were big, slow, and conservative. They were visually unrecognizable from the VCU groups; the drop-off was just as evident in the numbers. Whatever the pragmatic benefits of adjusting to the players he inherited in year one, the result was that Smart never came close to a clear style of play in Austin, the sharp tactical clarity of his VCU years receding into an extended formless muddle.
But if the impulse toward flexibility hurt him at Texas, it has once again proven to be a major asset at Marquette. Smart could have decided that going back to havoc was his only way forward. It is not at all hard to imagine. Milwaukee felt like a return to a more understood place, a better personal fit for him, and you could see many coaches following that revanchist impulse. A style like that, with players like that, could work at a place like Marquette, too. It would have been comfortable, easier on the ego. Smart, to his credit, doesn’t seem super interested in being comfortable.