I had a chance recently to catch up with Florida assistant coach Shaka Smart. Smart, who will turn 32 next month, is about to complete his first year as an assistant on the UF basketball staff. He’s had previous assistant coaching stints at Clemson (2006-08), Akron (2003-05) and California, Pa (1999-2001.)
Q — You’ve coached in the Atlantic Coast Conference as an assistant at Clemson and now you’ve had a chance to coach a full season in the Southeastern Conference with Florida. How do compare the two leagues basketball-wise?
A — I think the differences are more based on the year. They are both tremendous leagues with high-level talent, great coaches. You’re looking at a year where the SEC has a lot of young teams. Everybody talks about the league being down, but I think it’s a lot more young than it is down. But I think it’s two great conferences. One’s a lot better in football, but I think the basketball is comparable.”
Q — Athletically or skill wise through, what does maybe the ACC do well that the SEC doesn’t do well, or vice-verse?
A — “Well, you know, everybody always says the SEC is athletic and the ACC is skilled, but I think again it goes back to a team-by-team basis. I coached at Clemson and our teams were as athletic as anybody. And now I’m here at Florida and I would say our team is as skilled as most teams in the ACC. So it all depends on what team you’re coaching.”
Q — How has recruiting the brand name of Florida been different than recruiting the brand name of Clemson?
A — Well I think if you look at the recent success that Billy (Donovan) has had here at Florida, not just on the court, but recruiting success that really creates a snowball of who you are recruiting and the power of your brand. You’re dealing with a guy that’s such a prominent figure on the national recruiting landscape, that definitely helps as well.
Q — What have you learned from working under Billy Donovan?
A — A great deal. I don’t have enough time to tell you. The one thing about Billy that’s been probably the best thing is he is completely different than any of the other four head coaches that I’ve worked for. And the one area I would say that he’s the most different is he is the most outside-the-box thinker on how to motivate guys, how to coach guys, how to help guys change and get better. So I’ve really learned from watching him and having conversations with him in those areas
Q — Tell us about your first name?
A — You ever seen the movie Shaka-Zulu? My dad is from Trinadad in the West Indies and when I was born he decided to name me Shaka. I’m named after a king in Southern Africa that united a bunch people under the Zulu name. I get kidded a lot about my name, especially when I was younger. You know, Shaka-Zulu, Chaka-Khan. When I got to the hotel today my name was spelled with a Ch instead of an Sh. That’s OK. I like it because it’s different.”
Q — How are you and your family settling into Gainesville?
A — I love it. You know when you’re coaching there’s not a huge amount of difference whether you are living in a huge city or a small town. But the best thing about Gainesville is it’s a huge college town. Anything you need to do in terms of restaurants and stuff for my wife, it’s all right there for you. My wife likes it. Some schools are in very small towns, so for her, it’s better in terms of options, stuff to do during the day. The University of Florida speaks for itself.