VCU Coach Shaka Smart calls Akron's Keith Dambrot, "my best friend in coaching."

VCU Coach Shaka Smart calls Akron’s Keith Dambrot, “my best friend in coaching.”

RICHMOND, Va. – Shaka Smart probably expected to spend his first day of work at Akron watching film or browsing the school’s recruiting database. Instead, he helped Keith Dambrot work out LeBron James at lunch.

It was the Spring of 2003, and Smart was a precocious 26-year-old basketball junkie who had just landed his first Division I assistant coaching gig. Dambrot was also an assistant under Zips’ Coach Dan Hipsher and had previously coached James at Akron Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s High School. James was a couple of months away from being the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and was already one of the best basketball players on the planet. Although they’d never met before, Smart helped Dambrot work our James for the next couple of months.

“I didn’t really say much for the first few times because I was in awe,” Smart said of James. “But that was a great experience. But that’s the type of guy [Dambrot] is.”

Smart and Dambrot became fast friends. When Dambrot was tapped to replace Hipsher in 2004, Smart stayed on as one of his assistants. Although Smart left in 2006 for Clemson and then eventually worked at Florida before becoming VCU’s head coach in 2009, he and Dambrot remained close.