Presence. That seems to be the watchword for Texas head coach Shaka Smart right now.
The Longhorns head coach took some time on Tuesday to talk with CBSSports.com college basketball insider Jon Rothstein on his YouTube show, ‘Stuffed,’ about his haircut, Chicago-style pizza and the play of his freshman forward Greg Brown.
But Smart’s comments about staying ‘present’ during these times, especially for his family and his team, stood out in the 10-minute interview.
Smart told Rothstein that the two people he looks to the most for choosing how to lead are Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s independence movement, and his mother.
Their lesson, Smart said? Presence.
“Just trying to be in the moment and trying to accept what is so we can do the right next thing,” Smart said.
Smart’s Longhorns (5-1) take on Sam Houston State today in Austin.
Accepting ‘what is’ has been a useful mantra this year, as the Longhorns, like all NCAA basketball teams, have been navigating COVID-19 and the restrictions that go along with it. The Longhorns, now No. 11 in the country, were looking forward to a matchup with No. 2 Baylor on Sunday. But due to COVID-19 issues within the Baylor program, the game was postponed.
Smart said the team was disappointed with the postponement, but the Longhorns are learning to remain adaptable as they prepare for their upcoming game with the Bearkats, along with what is now their Big 12 season opener, which will be Dec. 20 against Oklahoma State.
“(Adaptability) is everything,” Smart said. “To be honest the past and the future, as real as they may seem, and the big deal that everyone makes it out to be, it’s a figment up here in our minds. It’s all about now. Right now I’m on Zoom with earbuds talking to you and that’s a present moment. In a couple of hours I’m on the court and that’s about being in the moment with the team and trying to make the most of the opportunity to help them grow.”
Brown, a 6-foot-9 forward from Austin, Texas, who was the No. 9 recruit in the 2020 Class and was the only Longhorn recruit in that class. He is the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.6 points per game, and second-leading rebounder with 6 rebounds per game. Brown earned a starting job right away and, as Smart put it, is focused on taking ‘baby steps’ to get better every day.
“There’s a ton of room for growth, and when you have a player like that, you try to do your best to help them take a baby step today so it helps them play better tomorrow,’ Smart said. “He’s made progress with learning the effort that it takes at this level, to go grab the ball off the glass, which he’s really good at, and where he can impact the game with his athleticism.”
Texas is led by guards Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman III. Ramey is the team’s leading scorer with 14.7 points per game, with Coleman right behind him at 14.5 points per game. Jericho Sims is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.8 points per game.
These Longhorns have already won the Maui Invitational — which was played in Asheville, North Carolina, due to COVID-19 — where they claimed the title by beating North Carolina. The Longhorns also narrowly lost to Villanova. Smart has a veteran team, with all but Brown returning from last year’s team. Plus, they’re outscoring opponents by an average of 13 points per game.
Smart also spent some time talking about his family, saying that one of the few ‘silver linings’ of this year dominated by COVID-19 is that he was able to see his wife and daughter every day during the offseason, something that doesn’t happen during the normal grind of being a college basketball coach.
In fact, you can thank his wife and daughter for the ‘big’ story the first couple of weeks out of Texas basketball — Smart trading in his buzz cut, which he’s cut himself since seventh grade, for a haircut that is, well, anything but.
“My wife and daughter told me to grow it out,” Smart said. “I usually cut my own hair once a week, going back to seventh grade and it was really to save money. A lot of people were surprised to see that I could grow hair. Obviously I can, and my wife and daughter asked me to keep it.”
So get used to the hair — and used to the Longhorns being at the top of the Big 12 standings.
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