The Shaka Smart era at Texas technically started in 2015. But it wasn’t truly his program yet.
In his first year at the helm, Smart had to work with previously recruited players while figuring out the ins and outs of coaching on the 40 Acres.
Now, going into his second season, Smart has skilled returners, an impressive recruiting class of his own and more influence over the team’s schedule. With his fingerprints finally all over the program, Texas is finally Smart’s team.
“In a lot of ways, we are starting over,” Smart said on June 22. “It takes some time to get the program to the point where you go from one year to the next and everyone really understands and there’s a smooth transition.”
The transition this offseason posed some problems with so much roster turnover. The team lost seven members from the 2015–16 roster — including three players 6-foot-9 or taller — leaving the Longhorns in need of front-court players and dynamic scorers who can shoulder the team’s offensive load.
Sophomore guards Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach showed that potential in their first season at Texas. They had ups and downs like most freshmen, but their confidence and aggressive style of play fits Smart’s “havoc” system — a strategy based on full-court defensive pressure — and the teams he coached to deep tournament runs at VCU.
Several members of the Longhorns’ recruiting class also fit that mold and will vie for starting positions. Freshmen centers Jarrett Allen and James Banks will help make up for the loss of graduated centers Prince Ibeh and Cam Ridley. And freshman guard Andrew Jones should immediately become one of Texas’ primary ball handlers.
But Smart is still counting on his veterans to step up and lead the younger players. He’s particularly pushing Davis, Roach and sophomore forward Tevin Mack to set the tone and become players Texas can depend on every time the team takes the floor.
“We, as a young program, are going to have to get better quickly and grow fast,” Smart said. “With those sophomores, we’re trying to accelerate that because they’re going to have to play like juniors and seniors.”
Smart and assistant coach Mike Morrell carefully crafted the 2016 non-conference schedule to help the young Longhorn team grow.
The team opened its season in China in 2015, but Texas won’t be going on any trips to play overseas this fall. The schedule also doesn’t feature any non-conference marquee matchups this season, but still gives the team chances to build experience before Big 12 play.
“We were trying to find as competitive games as we could, but games that our team could build from and learn from,” Smart said. “You try to factor in what type of experience the guys need to get us ready to be successful in Big 12 play and put us in the best position we can be in the NCAA tournament.”
Athletic director Mike Perrin is already showing appreciation for Smart’s impact on the program. The department signed Smart to a one-year contract extension Thursday.
Now, loaded with a full recruiting class and a transformed culture, Smart is ready to carry out his vision in 2016.