Shaka Smart starts new era in Texas basketball with win over North Carolina
Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — Zora Sanae Smart frolicked into the bleachers, holding her mother’s hand while her curls bounced atop her head 30 minutes prior to Texas’ 84-82 victory over No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday.
Javan Felix‘s buzzer-beater sealed one of the most pivotal wins of her father’s coaching career, a victory that signified the dawning of a new era at Texas.
They’re why he waited.
Shaka Smart did not entertain — and reject — offers from big schools with big boosters, big checkbooks and bigger talent because he enjoyed the attention or craved more perks from VCU brass.
He waited because he did not want to leave VCU for another job. He wanted a home, for himself, for wife Maya, for his 4-year-old daughter and for his mother-in-law, who now calls Austin home too.
Smart researched the schools and the communities. He sought information on diversity in the area. He moved to Austin after he accepted the job in April.
But on Saturday, Smart arrived. The win over North Carolina announced he is here to build. He is here to energize an arena that lost so much mojo in recent seasons that the university hired a consultant to boost the Frank Erwin Center environment, complete with a DJ, pregame fireworks and something called a “Hype Squad.” He is here to turn Texas into a Big 12 contender again — not the afterthought it became in the final years of Rick Barnes’ tenure.
You don’t get a crown for a victory over North Carolina — though the suspenseful victory was UT’s first win over a top-five squad since the Longhorns won at No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 22, 2011 — and you shouldn’t. Conference play will begin soon. Then, Selection Sunday. Three months of barometers and gut checks.
That said, a victory over North Carolina might sway lingering doubters, show the Longhorns community Smart is the right choice and encourage the guards, forwards and trees in high schools throughout Houston, Dallas and the rest of the country to consider Texas. It’s a step toward making Texas relevant again.
“It feels great,” Smart said. “To be honest with you, there have been some growing pains and some transition pains, especially for them.”