Smart pledges continued success

RICHMOND, Va. -- Shaka Smart says he will build on the success already in place at Virginia Commonwealth and plans to "take this program to even greater heights."

Smart was introduced Thursday as the Rams' new coach. He replaces Anthony Grant, who came from Florida to VCU three years ago before leaving last week to take over at Alabama.

The 32-year-old Smart, who also spent last season as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida, said he will pick up where Grant left off, employing the same style of full-court pressure defense and relentlessly attacking offense also favored by the Gators.

Under Grant the Rams went 76-25, won three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles and reached the NCAA tournament twice.

Smart said his Rams will play "the most exciting style of basketball in the CAA. We are going to wreak havoc on our opponents' psyche and their plan of attack."

Smart has never been a head coach, but his coaching career includes stops at Clemson, Akron, Dayton and California of Pennsylvania. Before that, he played at Kenyon College in Ohio, choosing basketball over chances to go to Harvard, Yale and Cornell for academics, said VCU athletic director Norwood Teague.

Donovan joined the press conference by telephone as he did when VCU hired Grant, who had been his assistant for 12 years. Donovan said the Rams had made another great choice.

"One thing I've always admired about Shaka is his work ethic. It is second to none," Donovan said, adding that Smart studies the game and builds relationships with players.

Teague said he consulted frequently with Donovan during the search, and was blown away by Smart when he met him early Friday at a diner in Florida.

"We have landed an absolute superstar," Teague told the crowd at the press conference, which was held at the Siegel Center where the Rams play their homes and that was open to the public. "I think today will be one of those days we'll always remember in the Siegel Center."

Smart met with the players on Wednesday and said he is eager to get started.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for you guys," he told the players in attendance, adding that he hopes they are prepared to help him "take this program to new heights."

The work to make that happen, he said, "begins today. ... As I told them, as soon as I set foot in this building, their dreams and goals become my dreams and goals."

Point guard Joey Rodriguez attended the press conference and said Smart impressed him during the team meeting by finding a way to connect with each player on a personal level.

"He told every kid on the team where he'd seen them play before," Rodriguez said.

In his case, he said, it was as a high school senior playing AAU ball in Las Vegas.