It’s been a full-campus celebration at Virginia Commonwealth University ever since its No. 11 seeded men’s basketball team defied all odds to advance to the Final Four. Even Twitter has VCU and its young, “brilliant-minded” head coach Shaka Smart as the most trending topics of discussion among students, alumni, Virginia natives and non-related fans that are just excited to root for an underdog.
Everyone loves to see a good David vs. Goliath story. But there’s one particular group far outside of the Virginia region that is just as emotionally attached to the Rams’ magical tourney-run as any VCU proud would be. According to April Garrett—the Baltimore-born mastermind behind Amplify Baltimore, a series of community conversations that relay important issues to Baltimore City residents—students and alumni of Kenyon College are heavily tuned into VCU’s performance this spring. Garrett, a proud member of Kenyon’s alumni counsel, said Smart is easily the most prominent figure to develop from the highly acclaimed division III liberal arts college located in Gambier, Ohio.
“We’re mostly known for our swimming prowess. We’ve never been known as a basketball elite, so to see one of our own on a national stage has been an exciting experience for us all,” Garrett told the AFRO.
Garrett, a basketball fanatic, has joined several other Kenyon alumni in posting a photo of Smart as their profile pictures on Facebook. And they’ll probably keep his photo up until VCU is either eliminated or wins the championship.
“A lot of folks wonder why Shaka would choose a small school like Kenyon over Harvard and Yale, but you really have to had studied there to understand how special the experience is,” Garrett said. “And because we’re smaller, you gain that family-like bond with your fellow peers, especially among the African-American students because the school is majority White.”
Garrett said the Kenyon family has been closely following Shaka Smart’s career since he graduated magna cum laude in 1999. She claims Smart is such a “brilliant mind” that many of his supporters wanted him to continue studying for his doctoral degree and become a master educator.
“You can tell from a simple conversation with him just how natural of a teacher he is,” said Garret, who gained a master’s from Harvard, the same school Smart’s wife, Maya graduated from. “When you can come up with such meticulous strategies and present them in the manner in which he’s capable, it’s so much easier for others to learn from you.
“And I really believe it’s because of how wonderful of a teacher he is that has his team playing such outstanding ball.”
Garrett recognized how Shaka also has supporters at California University of Pennsylvania, including Cal U men’s basketball coach Bill Brown, the man Smart claims is primarily responsible for his decision to choose Kenyon over every other offer. Coach Brown recruited Shaka to Kenyon and coached him through his freshman year before leaving to take the head coach position at Cal U in 1997. He promised Shaka that he would hire him as an assistant coach when he graduated, and the rest is history. Ten years later, he’s the hottest head coach in the country and will soon be the father of a newborn baby.
“This is just an amazing moment in his life,” Garrett said. “He really deserves all the attention he’s getting from the media right now. It’s no question he has the stuff to be one of the most influential figures of our society; he’s truly the real deal.”