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Shaka Smart Illinois

March 21, 2012 by staff 

Shaka Smart Illinois, The man who gave Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart his start in college basketball knows Illinois would be hiring ”one of the best young coaches in the country” if it can land him.

And the irony of his protégé potentially entering the college scene in Illinois isn’t lost on DePaul coach Oliver Purnell.

”You like to see your assistants do well,” Purnell said Tuesday. ”But more than that, he’s a friend. It would be ironic because our paths crossed twice already, and to cross a third time speaks to what a small world the basketball community is.”

Purnell, who just completed his second season with the Blue Demons, was the man who guided Smart into that world when he hired him as his director of basketball operations at Dayton in 2001.

”I actually had about a week to interview him because we were at my basketball camp and we had a bunch of kids there,” Purnell said. ”He clearly stood out to me as a person who was very organized. He did some things for us in camp, and the kids responded to him. He was a tremendous motivator and communicator and very, very bright.

”There’s an advantage to having a week to interview someone, but you would see their shortcomings, too. I thought he had special qualities even then.”

Smart was on Purnell’s staff for three seasons, a time when the Flyers emerged as a power in the Atlantic 10. In 2003, Smart took a position as an assistant at Akron shortly before Purnell was offered and accepted the coaching job at Clemson.

”I tired to hire him at Clemson, but he had already made the commitment to Akron, and I admired that he honored that,” Purnell said.

Smart was at Akron for three seasons before a job opened on Purnell’s staff at Clemson.

”He was the only person I called,” Purnell said.

Smart remained with Purnell at Clemson for two seasons and was credited with helping recruiting there. He left Clemson to spend one season as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida before becoming VCU’s head coach in 2009. Smart earned national acclaim when he took the 11th-seeded Rams to the Final Four last season.

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