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Shaka Smart, Marquette Men's Basketball Head Coach

Zach Gelb Show / Zach Gelb
The Truth Network Radio
April 3, 2023 6:43 pm

Shaka Smart, Marquette Men's Basketball Head Coach

Zach Gelb Show / Zach Gelb

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April 3, 2023 6:43 pm

Shaka Smart joined Zach to discuss how he looks back on this previous season and how San Diego State can slow UConn down. 

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Coach, appreciate you doing this. How are you? I'm good, thanks for having me.

Well, I appreciate you coming on. So, let's first talk about your team before we get into the matchup in this tournament so far. How do you look back at the season Marquet just had this past year?

Well, with appreciation. You know, really grateful for everything that our guys did really starting this time last year. We made the decision to really trust and invest in the returning players that we had and man, they really, you know, made us look pretty good with that. They got better and better, every one of them. Three incoming guys, you know, played great roles and it was fun to watch our team grow over the course of the season. Can you talk about that growth before the year you guys enter the Big East of Sensational were picked to finish ninth. When did you start to realize ultimately winning the Big East that you had a group that people weren't giving enough credit for? They were going to be better than what they were being said about them? Well, really, like I said, going back to the spring. You know, we had some guys that, you know, played support roles on our team last year that we felt like could take a big jump.

Oso Iguodaro, Stevie Mitchell, David Joplin, Cam Jones. We had Tyler Kohler coming back who was our starting point guard the year before that we thought was a lot better than people gave him credit for. So, you know, we just felt like the relationships that these guys have with each other was a real advantage for us. And if we could work really hard together, we'd be able to win some games and be really competitive.

I know you talked about the growth. This was a team that a lot of people thought were definitely going to get to the second weekend. Was it at all feeling a little bit like a missed opportunity as well? Not being able to get to that second weekend? You ever coached in the NCAA tournament, Zach? I know how difficult it is. Of course, it's a missed opportunity. The great thing about the NCAA tournament is the same thing that makes it really, really tough, which is it's, you know, it's win or go home.

And I don't care what seed you are. If you're in the NCAA tournament, you're a good team and you feel like you can win in advance. So if you don't, you absolutely feel like you should be playing or you would have still been playing. If this would have happened or that would have happened, you would have been playing. If this would have happened or that would have happened.

But the great thing about it is shoulds or would have, that really doesn't do anything for you. It's who's able to play their best basketball at the very, very end. We played great in the Big East tournament, you know, well enough to beat UConn.

And we just, you know, did not, we weren't at our best against Michigan State in that second round game. And they obviously have a terrific team. I know you may not look at it this way in the moment, Shaka Smart, but making the tourney the last two years, and I know how quickly things change in the sport now with the transfer portal and all that. How valuable is that experience that your guys gained the last two years? Well, it's what you come to college to do is to play in the NCAA tournament. And I think more importantly, even than playing in the NCAA tournament is the experience of what it takes and what it takes to win close games. You know, at the start of this past year, we lost some close games. We went to Purdue and played really well and lost a close game.

We lost the Mississippi State early, Wisconsin early in close games. And our guys really grew up, you know, they learned how to finish those kinds of games. So that's what propelled us to be able to be an NCAA tournament team. And hopefully as a program, there's a residue that comes from the success that we did have. I know what you guys are chasing at Marquette.

You've won it all in 1977, haven't been back to a final four since 2003. When you look through these first two years and what you guys are starting to do, where do you think the culture is at with this program as you guys are already starting to move on into your number three? Growing. Our culture is growing. You know, we're on the court today doing some skill work with our guys and particularly our sophomores and juniors, just looking at them out on the floor. You know, I thought to myself, man, this looks like two guys, this looks like guys that have been here for two years.

And our freshmen, of course, just got done with their first year here. But you know, that's really what you want. You want continuity. You want guys that have learned our way.

Everyone has a different way of doing things. We have our Marquette way and we happen to believe in it. So our culture is growing. I mean, culture is just how you act, how you interact and how you respond. That's all it is. And the number one component of that is the people in your room.

We feel really good about the people in our room. Let's delve into this game tonight. You guys played UConn three times this year. You were able to post a 2-1 record against them.

What was the emphasis to your squad when you went up against them? Because you guys did have a lot of success against UConn. We had success in two games and then one game we got blown out. And really the biggest difference in the two wins versus the loss was, you know, their physicality, their aggressiveness, their offensive rebounding overwhelmed us in the game at their place. And then in the game at our place, in the game in Madison Square Garden, we were able to hang in there and be tough enough and stand up enough. You know, the way our team is made up, we're never going to be the greatest rebounding team.

We're a little bit more skill-based, but we were able to neutralize them to some extent in those areas where they're so good. And then really, really do our best to defend Hawkins. He is an elite, elite shooting guard.

I think someone that'll play for a long time in the NBA. The two games we won, we did a heck of a job on him, made him inefficient. The game that we lost, he really got off. And if you're able to contain Hawkins, which is very tough to do, you have Sanogo and then even if you contain him or he gets in foul trouble, then Clingan comes in. Those bigs down low and the depth that this team has, coach, that's what stands out to be the most. It's just the depth of this team.

No question. I'll tell you what though, all the guys we just mentioned are terrific. I actually think the key to their team is Andre Jackson. And I think when I think when he plays well, they're darn near unbeatable. He's such a dynamic athlete. He's a great passer. He's a terrific defender.

He's someone that has great size and length for that position. But if you look at some of the games where they've lost, and they only lost in the Big East, they literally haven't lost to anyone outside of our league, teams were able to either get him in foul trouble or neutralize him in some way. And if San Diego State can do that, they've got a better chance. How much is it mental going up against UConn? Because watching them just in this NCAA tournament, it's like you know the avalanche is eventually coming, even if there is a point where they look like they're keeping it close and maybe it's a game that's going to go down to the wire.

It's a great point, Zach. Absolutely mental. UConn is a team, and this is a compliment when I say this, they're a team with a good kind of arrogance. I'm not saying bad arrogance. As much as anyone, they know they're good. And so as a team going against them, you've got to match that with a level of toughness and motivation and a brand of confidence yourself that you can and will beat them.

And as the game goes and there's different runs, you've got to be able to sustain that. When we played them here, I think they were like number four, number six in the country. And then when we played them in the garden, they were riding high as well. We were able to kind of take on a little bit of an underdog mentality, even though we were ahead of them in the standings. I'm sure San Diego State will adopt that tonight, but they're going to have to have the requisite confidence to go with that. And how about what Coach Dutcher has done? I know him and Steve Fisher are always going to be linked together, but to have San Diego State in this national title game, I know the last few years with the way these tourneys have gone, Coach, nothing does surprise you, but this one is surprising for sure. Yeah, I mean, Coach Fisher was an unbelievable coach and built that program and all that, but he retired several years ago, so it's not like Brian Dutcher's just stepping in. I mean, he's been there for a long time. He helped build the program as an assistant coach, and he's been the head coach there for a while.

He's consistently been one of the top defensive coaches in the country. They've consistently done a terrific job filling their roster with older, experienced players, and they've gotten their guys to truly play for one another. So, you know, I was at the game on Saturday, and there was a couple times where they were dead in the water, and they just kind of willed themselves to come back. So, when you see a team with that type of competitive character, you know that there's always going to be a chance for them to win the game. And that's what makes the tourney awesome, Shaka Smart, because they didn't have a lead in the second half until they walked out of the building and the scoreboard had zeros on it. That was really a wild second half between San Diego State and FAU, and you know this going on one of those runs. When you get there, you think you go win it all, but man, that heartbreak, it doesn't matter if you miss the win or lose, it really gets at you, because I thought FAU should have been the championship game tonight.

Well, again, should have, could have, but it doesn't really matter. I mean, I think any team, any coach could say that. I actually, I thought the way that their players and coaches handled the loss, I mean, they just showed incredible class, because you're exactly right. It's easy when you're in that situation to feel like something's been stolen from you or taken from you, but that's why we play 40 minutes, you know, and the young man from San Diego State, I can't recall his name right now, but just had unbelievable poise to know exactly how much time was on the shot, on the clock, and to, you know, get the shot he wanted, get separation, rise up and shoot it in.

Yeah, it was a great play by Lamont Butler. Shaka Smart, before we let you run, just get him back to the Big East. We always know how great that conference is.

Let me just hit you on a few coaching points. Rick Pitino, joining the conference, going to St. John's back in the Big East, that doesn't make anyone's life easier, right? Well, he's, in my opinion, you know, as good of a coach as there's been since I started following college basketball, so it's an unbelievable shot in the arm for our league, and then you got, you know, Ed Cooley heading down to Georgetown, and we all know what type of program builder and what type of in-game coach he is. Kim English is gonna have as much energy and as much charisma as anybody heading up to Providence, so our league, man, it's, you know, I'm just a kid that played Division III basketball. To be associated with this conference and be a part of it is a ton of fun, and next year is going to be a heck of a challenge. Did that surprise you that Ed left Providence to go to Georgetown?

It did, to some extent. You know, I knew that, you know, obviously he's an institution up there at Providence, being from up there and with what he's built, but, you know, at the same time, one thing that a lot of us have in common, particularly African-American coaches, is the way that we grew up and came up in the business revering that program and John Thompson and the brand of Georgetown basketball. So, you know, in some ways it's not surprising for someone to want to be there, because with what Coach Thompson did, it's a larger-than-life grant. Coach, last thing I'll ask you, Shaka Smart, who's done a wonderful job at Marquette, is here with us. We all remember what his VCU team did back in 2011. I just saw the numbers came out that the women's championship game between LSU and Iowa had 9.9 million viewers, which is a record breaker. Everyone's talking about the end of the game with Angel Rees celebrating in Kaitlyn Clark's space.

Just give me your coaching view, and how'd you kind of react to that one? Well, I was one of those 9.9 million watching the game, so I think, first of all, the coverage of women's basketball and the interest in women's basketball, it seems like it's exploding exponentially, and it is very, very well-deserved. I mean, watching players like the two players you just named is a lot of fun. I mean, they're competitors. They've got personality, and they've got unbelievable competitive character. In terms of the end of the game, I mean, there's a lot of emotions at different times, and I think one thing that's really, really interesting is how the media and fans maybe view different players in different ways, even when they're doing similar things.

So, I think you have two competitors, two young women that have personality to spare, and they were competing, and there was some trash talk and all that, but at the end of the day, it was a great game, and I thought the semifinals were great games, and it's great for the sport. Well, Coach, really do appreciate catching up with you. Good luck at your number three with Marquette, and thanks so much for doing this. You got it. Thanks for having me on.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-03 20:15:30 / 2023-04-03 20:21:41 / 6

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