WINTER WEATHER UPDATE: Messy conditions to impact Thanksgiving travel

MARK HOLMBERG COMMENTARY: Shaka Smart will stay at VCU

March 20, 2012 @ 3:11 p.m. UPDATE: Shaka on the road recruiting for VCU Rams

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – There’s little doubt attendance will continue to soar next season at the Siegel Center for Virginia Commonwealth University basketball games.

But will the Rams’ heroic coach, Shaka Smart, be in the house? The news is hot that Illinois is in hot pursuit of one of the hottest coaches in the land. There’s no question Smart is being courted by other major programs that can afford to double his 1.2 million dollar salary.

Students we spoke with, along with some of those who work with Smart, believe he’ll be here next season.

And so does the man whose name is on the Siegel Center, former menswear magnate Stuart C. Siegel, a VCU supporter and a member of the university’s Board of Visitors.

“He’s a special guy,” Siegel said of Coach Smart. “I think in many ways he understands he has a home here. He and his wife appear to be very happy.”

Yes, Smart signed a contract last year good until 2019. But, like most athletic contracts, there are outs.

(You can read details of that contract here: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/campusrivalry/post/2012/03/breaking-down-shaka-smarts-vcu-contract/1#.T2f3YXnpceQ)

The stakes are high for VCU, and the city.

The university saw an exciting sold-out season, one of the few in the nation. There’s been an absolute explosion in the sale of VCU gear.

There’s the ripple effect of jammed bars and restaurants and the soaring reputation of this downtown University as the Cinderella program stayed out well past midnight once again, cementing Smart and VCU as a legitimate force.

“It goes far beyond athletics,” Siegel said. “People now know who VCU is. No more VC-who?”

“He’s proven himself,” Siegel added. “He did so last year and again this year. I think he knows he can stay as long as he wants to. He’s welcome here.”

Both Smart and his wife have said how much they love it here. He recruited his heart out to build what is expected to be an exceptional team for next season, and seasons to come. He knows he’s solid here, and that one  bad season at a troubled big-program university like Illinois could end his run.

Donors will step forward and help find him another raise, like last year. Fundraising for the new practice gym that will be beside the Siegel Center will also gather steam to keep the Shaka train – including his assistant coaches – right here in River City.

What kind of deal comes out of this is up to VCU’s president and athletic director –  and Shaka Smart, of course.

“Certainly we’ll do whatever we can do as a  support base to try to keep Shaka here,” Siegel said.

Bottom line prediction?  Shaka Smart will be among those in the Siegel Center next season.

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