PITTSBURGH – VCU Coach Shaka Smart earned the 100th win of his short, albeit wildly successful, career in Saturday night’s 90-63 runaway victory over Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center. The feat was common knowledge among fans and media, but inside the Smart’s inner circle, many were unaware a milestone had been reached.
“I really didn’t know it was your 100th win, but congratulations,” said sophomore Treveon Graham said as he turned to Smart in the postgame press conference.
You’ll have to forgive Graham for his ignorance. Smart purposefully doesn’t make a big deal out of things like this. And it’s no small occurrence. Smart reached his 100 wins in 131 games. Only 29 coaches in college basketball history have done so faster. He’s also the 12th coach to win 100 in his first four seasons.
Not that he’s unappreciative of the success. But to him, it’s a shower of individual appreciation for an accomplishment that is anything but a solo act.
“The biggest thing for me is that it’s not just my 100th win,” Smart said Saturday. “It’s [Associate Head Coach] Mike Rhoades’, it’s [Assistant Coach] Will Wade’s, David Hinton’s, Darius Theus’, Troy Daniels’. All those guys have been around for the last four years, and our team has been able to make a lot of progress.”
Earlier, you would’ve thought Graham was playing for the purpose of delivering that 100th win. The 6-foot-5 swingman pumped in 20 points in an efficient 21-minute effort as the 22nd-ranked Rams (16-3, 4-0 A-10) cruised to their 13th straight victory.
But that’s how Graham, enjoying a breakout second season, has performed all year under Smart, who seems to have the Midas touch at VCU. He won at least 27 games in each of his first three seasons and has six NCAA Tournament victories to his credit, more than any of his VCU predecessors. Only Sonny Smith (136) and J.D. Barnett (132) have more wins as the Rams’ coach, doing so in nine and six seasons, respectively. Smart’s .763 winning percentage is the best in school history.
Smart has led the Rams to a Final Four, a school-record 29 wins, the program’s first Associated Press national ranking in 27 years and a conference championship, all in less than four full seasons.
“It just goes to show how good of a coach he is,” said Graham, a party to 45 of Smart’s victories. “It shows how dedicated he is to his players and how hard he works as a coach, and he deserves it.”
Junior Rob Brandenberg was a member of Smart’s second recruiting class and cited his ability to connect with the 35-year-old coach on and off the floor as a major reason for choosing the school over other suitors. It’s that player-coach relationship that has helped Brandenberg overcome a sophomore year shooting slump to become one of the Rams most dangerous offensive players.
Saturday, after the Rams used a 26-2 lead to open up a 26-point halftime lead, Smart’s intensity never waned. Although he did eventually call off VCU’s signature full-court press, Smart coached his players until the final buzzer as if the score was 0-0.
“He’s a coach that just that just demands the best out of us,” Brandenberg said. “Even with this win, we still go back and look at the film and that’s what he’s going to do to get us better and get us ready for the next game. He always teaches me and the rest of the players to never be satisfied and always keep pushing, so it’s just a testament to his philosophy and the way he approaches the game and we just want to continue to keep on going.“
It’s those moments from which Smart seems to derive most of his satisfaction, when a lesson learned in a blowout helps win a close game down the road.
As for those 100 wins, they’re nice. But it’s finding a way to win the next 100 that grabs Smart’s undivided attention.
“I think our team has gotten a lot better since that first year, but other than that, I just want to win some more,” he said. “Because if you spend too much time focusing on milestones or where your record is, you’re not focusing on the next game.”
The quest for 200 begins Thursday at Richmond.