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VCU’s Smart shaping up to be Final Four’s big star


The only person who shaping up to be a bigger star at the NCAA tournament than Kemba Walker? VCU coach Shaka Smart.

He’s young (33), engaging, a great quote and – most importantly – the coach who’s doing everything right. The Rams (28-11) have gone from First Four to Final Four by shooting lights out from beyond the arc (43.8 percent on 121 attempts) and outplaying a series of opponents from the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Big East and Pac-10.

And give him credit. He’s making the most of this moment.

He went on the Dan Patrick Show Monday and talked about his team, but also about his unusual name (pronounced Sha-KA) and his love of movies. The name section was entertaining (“I really didn’t have much of a choice.”) but I particularly enjoyed his movie chatter. I mean, the guy’s dropped references to “Dumb & Dumber” and “Major League” in the last three days.

“I like quotes. It’s probably my only hobby,” he told Patrick. “I keep a quote list. I have actually 120 pages on my quote list. That one is not on my list. That’s one of my all-time favorite movies. We use movies quite a bit on our team.”

As a guy who also spends waaaaay too much time quoting movies, I can relate.

But it’s not just movie quotes. Smart’s also a helluva good story on his own. Google his name and you’ll find dozens and dozens of profiles on him, but none will be as enlightening as this one – by his brother. An excerpt:

I’m sure that the good will that surrounds Shaka right now will outlast this year’s tournament, although it’s reached a pretty remarkable peak. His fan base stretches from Dick Vitale (who says that Shaka’s “got the whole package”) to countless denizens of the Twitterverse. “AunteeL,” for one, says, “Do NOT bet against a guy named Shaka Smart. The word ‘smart’ is right there!”

This is the Madness talking, and Shaka tells me he’s been too swamped to check Twitter recently. It’s probably just as well, although I’m saving one note for him. It’s from Jennie Duvernay, a former librarian at Kenyon who remembered Shaka as an undergraduate. “Shaka Smart,” she tweeted, “was outstanding stdnt & freq library user. … Knew he’d be successful!”

Others who know him well also said his rise is no surprise.

As if enough people aren’t already cheering for VCU. A coach like this only adds to it.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.