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Smart era begins in Texas

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AUSTIN, Texas - Less than 24 hours after telling his now former team he was changing jobs, Shaka Smart was being guided around his new campus at the University of Texas, eager to bring his brand of basketball to a new, bigger environment.

"I'm so excited to work with this group of young men and build upon the tradition that's been established here" Smart said at his introductory press conference.

Smart did take a moment at the beginning of his remarks to remember the team he left behind here in Richmond.

"I want to say thank you to all of our players and staff at VCU. The last six years have been an extremely special time in my life. To be honest, I didn't know if I would ever leave VCU because of the relationships I had there with our players and coaching staff. It really took a world class institution, a world class athletics program and a phenomenal place to convince my daughter, my wife and myself to make this move."

Smart receives a seven-year deal with the Longhorns, the first six of which are guaranteed, at an average salary of $3 million per year. Longhorns Athletic Director Steve Patterson said he didn't interview any other candidates, and also said Texas would honor a clause in Smart's old contract with VCU that stipulated a home-and-home series between the Rams and whichever team Smart joined.

''We looked out on the horizon and said 'who do we really want?''' Patterson said. ''Somebody all of us (schools) have had an eye on for some time. Somebody who is a great and dedicated coach. Somebody who plays an exciting style of basketball.''

Smart becomes the first African-American head basketball coach in Longhorn history and along with football coach Charlie Strong, makes up just the second such tandem in all of Division 1 college sports. Strong and Smart also worked together at the University of Florida and Smart leaned on Strong's guidance when making his decision.

"I got a chance to speak with him (Strong) about the community here and being a coach here and what that all means" Smart said. "I strongly value his opinion."

Back in Richmond, VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin took the high road in wishing Smart well in his new position. McLaughlin is at the Final Four in Indianapolis this weekend where he plans on speaking to some prospective candidates. On a conference call with reporters, McLaughlin joked that his cell phone bill would be "about $3 million" if it weren't for unlimited texting. The VCU job is much more desirable now than it was even when Smart first took over back in 2009.

"It's nice because you know you've done a good job positioning the program so that it's a very attratcive place" McLaughlin said. "I know a lot of that credit obivuosly goes to Shaka for the job he's been able to do with our kids and our program. I really think our program has elevated to a nationally elite level. We want someone who's going to be really good at VCU moving forward and continue what Coach (Smart) did. "I think Coach would tell you, it's a much different job than when he took over."

Not that McLaughlin didn't try to persuade Smart otherwise. He reportedly offered Smart another $1 million per year which would have bumped his VCU salary to $2.5 million per year. Smart was asked about such an offer on Friday and he responded "I won't deny that."

McLaughlin has a decent pool of candidates just from former Smart assistants. Mike Rhodes just finished his first season at Rice University, where he improved the Owls by 5 wins over their previous season . Will Wade won 22 games in just his second season at UT-Chattanooga. And Jamion Christian has gone 49-46 in three years at Mount St. Mary's.