Shaka Smart grew up in the shadow of the University of Wisconsin. He played his high school basketball in Oregon and came of age near Madison as the Badgers basketball program was coming back to life under Stu Jackson in the early 1990s. About 25 years later the now 43-year-old Smart is back in the state and coaching basketball but it’s in a city roughly 70 miles to the east.
“I grew up about an hour from here,” Smart said Monday. “I was born in Madison. I spent my whole childhood in Wisconsin and it’s phenomenal being back. But the reason I came back was Marquette. That’s why I’m here.”
Smart was introduced as the new head coach of the Golden Eagles after spending the last six years at Texas.
“No. 1, this is a basketball crazy place,” Smart said of his reasoning for taking the job in Milwaukee. “This is a basketball-centric athletic department.”
While at Texas, Smart went 109-86 overall and 52-56 in Big 12 play. The Longhorns went to three NCAA tournaments, but were unable to get a win in any of those trips, something that also plagued his predecessor with Marquette, Steve Wojciechowski.
“You want to have seasons where you’re able to put something up in the rafters. Whether it’s a Big East regular season championship, Big East tournament championship. The ultimate goal is to advance to the Final Four and beyond. That’s been done once here in 1977.”
Before Marquette can do those things, Smart has to put his own stamp on the program.
“There’s a lot of goals you go after before you even play a single game. Again, we’re trying to build culture. It’s not a commentary on anything that happened before. I think anytime a new coach comes in you’re going to have to build a culture you believe in. Again, that starts with relationships and it takes time, it takes communication, it takes a lot of work.”