Commonwealth Times’ Sports Twitter
Ask Shaka Smart if he’s sick about being asked about the Final Four, and he’ll lean back in his chair and shoot you a swift, direct answer.
“No, I’m not sick of it,” the VCU men’s basketball coach said. “I mean, it is what it is.”
Of course, having your awe-inspiring accomplishments pounded back into your ears over and over again could never get dull, but for Smart, it’s bittersweet.
He’s focused on this year’s team, what lies ahead and possibly beneath.
“It’s critical that we move on,” Smart said.
So they will. But with a roster that’s undergone a facelift so serious it’s left them as the 10th youngest team in Division I college basketball. And with that, naturally the talks of rebuilding are attached. But rebuilding is not in this season’s vocabulary. In fact, it’d be asinine to let it define this season following an astounding Final Four run.
“That’s just a label that some people put on it,” Smart said. “We’re going to try to win in every game we go into, so we never go into a game and say, ‘Well we’re rebuilding so.’ We go into the game because we’re going out there to win this game.”
On the first day of class, Smart told his players to be polite and appreciative when people engage them about the Final Four run, but in the back of their minds, they should be thinking ahead.
“In your mind you should be thinking, ‘it’s over, it’s all over,’” Smart told his young team. “It’s easy for me as a 34-year-old guy, but when you’re 18, 19 years old, and your picture is up on a billboard on Broad Street, that can be hard.”
Losing four seniors and a junior one year, then returning just one senior and six freshman the next will cause any team to redefine itself. Building a new identity and separating itself from last year’s team is the key.
“People look at your experience, and we do have one of the younger teams in the league. We do have only one senior. We do have six freshmen, so that’s a fact,” Smart said. “It’s not going to change. I tell the guys all the time that there’s nobody walking through those doors that we’re going to add to the roster this year so we are who we are.”
It’s who’s inside the door that counts. A group of guys who know how to win, and six freshmen waiting to learn how.
Creating a new identity is one thing, but riding on the wave of momentum is another.
“We have a lot to build off of from last season’s success,” senior Bradford Burgess said. “We’ve got a great group of newcomers that can contribute early on, so it’s definitely exciting to have games coming up around the corner.”
The winning pedigree has and always will be at VCU. To use rebuilding as a way to define the upcoming season would be a fool’s errand.
With success comes responsibility, and a standard to live up to.
“Whether you call it rebuilding or reloading, we are a completely different team that has to form a new identity,” Smart said. “And that’s what we’re in the process of doing now.”
With a cradle of young guns in the chamber, we’ll call it reloading.
Photos by Chris Conway
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