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As Shaka Smart says, it’s a whole new game in the CAA


Mike Miller

A Final Four run elevated Shaka Smart and VCU to national prominence. Now comes the hard part – staying in that spotlight.

Smart was the main attraction at CAA media day Tuesday, befitting for a coach coming off an historic season – from First Four to Final Four is a feat few will ever match – and a league thrust back into the spotlight because of that season. Now he faces another challenge, though it’s familiar to any coach that lost a host of starters – winning with a whole new group.

Won’t be easy, either. Drexel and George Mason were both picked to finish ahead of the Rams, who return one starter and a big ol’ target on their backs.

“You’ve got to get your guys to understand that the Final Four run you did last year is not going to win you any games,” Smart said Monday. “In fact, it’s going to provide the other team with motivation, so you’d better be ready to go.”

Especially with more attention on the CAA.

VCU was the conference’s second Final Four team since 2006 (more than the Big 12), resulting in fewer awkward phone calls between coaches and prospective recruits. Smart did more than win games last season. He boosted the CAA (and did so again when he signed an extension at the school).

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, these are heady times for the conference. In a very, very good way.

“I don’t think we have to sell our league anymore,” Madison coach Matt Brady told the paper. “We’re recruiting kids in the Southwest, and they know our league.”

Now it’s all about moving forward, especially for a guy like Smart, who refuses to bask in that Final Four glow any longer. Hey, he had all summer. Time to move on.

“Shakespeare said the joy’s soul lies in the doing, what’s won is done,” Smart said. “It’s over with. I don’t sit there every night and look at my Final Four ring and dream about last year. I want to focus on having the success again. But it is something that as a basketball program you want to utilize in recruiting, in the branding of your program, in the marketing of your team, and that’s something that we’ll do.”

Besides, Smart’s most significant event this year wasn’t even basketball related. That’d be the birth of daughter Zora Sanae in late September.

“That’s changed my life,” Smart said, “a whole lot more than the Final Four.”

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