WASHINGTON — The prodigal son has returned to the court at Virginia Commonwealth University, even if it is on the visitor’s side.
On Tuesday night, coach Shaka Smart and his Texas Longhorns traveled to Richmond, Va., for a showdown against the VCU Rams. Smart, who was the Rams’ coach from 2009-14, is rightly credited with helping VCU take the next step as a perennial winner, including a great Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2011.
In 2015, he accepted an offer to coach Texas, nearly tripling his salary and moving to a major D-1 program.
Tuesday was the first time that Smart has returned to VCU, and appreciative fans let him know how much he meant to the program (video via Marc Davis, NBC-12 in Richmond):
“If you take out the fact some of us coached there–even if we hadn’t, this would be an exciting place to go play,” Smart told USA Today before the game. “It’s an unbelievable passion and excitement there for basketball. They’ve had success there for the past 15 years plus. Now you add the connections that we have there.’
“It will be an interesting experience to be on the other side of that arena.”
After thanking fans and greeting the game officials, Smart shared an embrace with current VCU coach Mike Rhoades.
Smart hired Rhoades to be a part of his staff at VCU, an opportunity that Rhoades had never forgotten.
“I’m here because he [Smart] took a chance on me,” Rhoades told CBS-6 in Richmond. “Not only am I so fortunate that he brought me on staff, but I gained a great friend in all that, which is really cool.
“We’re going to root for each other all the time. Except for these 40 minutes.”
Rhoades also accurately predicted Smart’s warm welcome back to the VCU Seigel Center.
“Our fans will appreciate and welcome him until the ball goes up,” Rhoades said. “That’s how it should be.”