A Biography of the Coach Who Brought Marquette Back to Glory

A Biography of the Coach Who Brought Marquette Back to Glory

Who is Shaka Smart?

He’s probably known best as the coach who led Virginia Commonwealth University to its so far only Final Four basketball appearance in 2011, however, Shaka Smart again made the headlines coaching the men’s basketball team at Marquette University. He won the Henry Iba Award as the national coach of the year at the close of the 2022-2023 season, and sports fans wanted to know more about the man who brought Marquette back to glory.

If you’re interested in learning more about his life and profession, you’ve come to the right place.

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Early life, family, and education

Born Shaka Dingani Smart under the zodiac sign of Aries on 8 April 1977, he recently celebrated his 46th birthday. A native of Madison, Wisconsin USA, he holds American nationality and comes from a biracial family of African-American, Ndebele (South African) people, and White descent. His middle name ‘Dingani’ means ‘the one who is searching’ in the Ndebele language.

Shaka was raised by his mother, Monica King and father Winston Smart, who left the family when Shaka was 17 years old. Most of his childhood Shaka spent in Fitchburg, a suburb of Madison, alongside his six siblings, namely J. M. Tyree, Anika Aduesa, Ifoma, Alfie, Nkosi Mandela and Sekou Lumumba.

When it comes to his educational background, Shaka attended Oregon High School in Wisconsin, where he played basketball for the Oregon Panthers, but where he was often bullied because of his skin color. He led a student group that held seminars on racism and also homophobia – as Shaka said, this helped him develop his competitive side.

Upon matriculating in 1995, Shaka turned down admission to Harvard University and enrolled at Kenyon College in Ohio, from which he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in History in 1999. After receiving the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) postgraduate scholarship, Shaka continued his education at California University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Master’s degree in Social Science, in 2001.

Career as a college basketball player

While attending Kenyon College, Shaka played for the basketball team, the Kenyon Lords. He was a four-year starter and three-year captain of the team, setting school records for assists in a season (182) and career (542). Shaka was named All-North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) as a senior, as well as NCAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Shaka was also chosen for the USA Today All-America Academic Team in 1999.

Coaching career

Shaka began his coaching career during his time at the California University of Pennsylvania, as an assistant coach under Bill Brown, who coached the Kenyon Lords. In the following year, Shaka was hired as the director of basketball operations by the University of Dayton, in Ohio, where he stayed until 2003.

From 2003 through 2006, Shaka was an assistant coach at the University of Akron, also in Ohio, and was then hired by Clemson University, in South Carolina, where he also served as an assistant coach from 2006 to 2008. The following season, Shaka spent with the University of Florida, as the assistant coach of college’s basketball team.

In 2009, Shaka began serving as the head coach for Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) – at the time, Shaka was one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I, and by January 2013, the second youngest coach to win 100 games. As mentioned, he led the team to the First Four, a play-in round of the NCAA Division I tournament. Shaka served as the head coach for VCU until 2015.

Shaka was then hired by the University of Texas as the head coach of the men’s basketball team, the Longhorns. In his first season, Shaka led the team to a 20-13 record. In the season 2017-2018, he led the team to a 19-15 record, while in the following season, Shaka led the Longhorns to a 21-16 record – the school participated in the National Invitation Tournament for the first time since 1978.

In 2021, Shaka had two years left on his contract with the University of Texas and could be bought out for $7.1 million. In March 2021, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin hired Shaka as the Golden Eagles head coach, making him the first African-American head coach in program’s history. The following season, Shaka led the Golden Eagles to a 19-13 record, but lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the University of North Carolina.

In his second season (2022-2023), Shaka led the Golden Eagles to the Big East regular season crown and tournament championship, having been picked to finish ninth in the conference in the pre-season polls.

Is he married?

Shaka has been the subject of various rumors about his romantic life, but hasn’t commented on these claims. It’s widely known that he’s been a married man since 2006, to Maya Payne Smart, an author and literacy advocate. A native of Austin, Texas, Maya is a Harvard University graduate (BA degree in Social Studies), and is currently a professor at Marquette University.

The two haven’t shared how they met and when they started their relationship, however, it is known that they married on 20 May 2006. The couple has one child together, daughter Zora Sanae Smart, born on 25 September 2011.

How rich is Shaka Smart?

During his career as the head coach, Shaka coached a total of ten National Basketball Association (NBA) players, including Jaxson Hayes and Kamaka Hepa. Under his leadership, over 25 student-athletes have earned all-conference accolades and league season-long specialty awards, so when Shaka was awarded the Henry Iba Award, an annual award recognizing the best college basketball coaches, sports fans greeted this decision with great approval.

Besides awards and accolades, thanks to his ‘havoc’ style of coaching, Shaka has earned a hefty sum of money. According to sources, as of May 2023, his net worth has been estimated at over $15 million.

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