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VCU's Smart balances fun, discipline in guiding Rams to success

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010

Young coach works players hard, but remains loved

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 11:27 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – Troy Daniels arrived on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University simultaneously with the scholarly whirlwind that is better known as head men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart, and the now former Ram guard had one request.

“I wanted him to coach me very hard,” Daniels said.

Daniels got what he wanted from the first-time head coach and it has paid dividends in a big-time manner for not only Daniels, but the entire VCU program.

Daniels is in the midst of chasing his dream of reaching the NBA, which given where he was 24 months ago is stunning, and he says the coach that helped him get to this position is “really small,” but played a big, big role in that.

“(Smart) coaches everybody very hard,” Daniels explained. “He’s a great disciplinarian if you aren’t doing the right things on the court and off of the court. We just love him.”

Smart is one of the rising young stars in the coaching profession (he turned 36 years old this spring) and is currently serving as an assistant to Florida’s Billy Donovan for the United States Under-19 squad in preparation for the upcoming World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic (the team will leave for Prague on Saturday and open play on Thursday).

Smart has the unique ability to balance getting his teams to play hard, live and study the right way, but without being overbearing.

“He jokes around with us,” Daniels said. “But when it’s time to get serious, we get serious.”

It doesn’t get more serious than training with a special operations force of United States Navy SEALs, which Smart has his players do in preparation for each basketball season.

Daniels was in Indianapolis this past week working out for the Indiana Pacers after a meteoric rise at VCU over the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-6 wing averaged less than three points per game over his first two seasons, yet he developed into an offensive threat over his final two seasons and averaged 9.97 points per game as a junior and 12.25 as a senior.

That type of player development has resulted in VCU joining the likes of Gonzaga and Butler in becoming nationally-known programs that play to the ability – and then some – of high-major competition (VCU advanced to the 2011 Final Four and lost to Butler).

Smart lost four starters off of that Final Four team to graduation, yet his next group didn’t skip a beat in pace of play and forced nearly 18 more turnovers than their opponents each game, thus, the descriptive term of “havoc” was fitting in describing the Rams’ game.

“It’s fun,” Daniels said. “Shoot 3’s on fast breaks, get a lot of steals, and the rest takes care of itself.”

Smart has been courted by, and turned down, traditional basketball programs from coast to coast, yet Daniels is only “a little” surprised that his former coach remains at VCU.

“I’m a little surprised, but not much,” Daniels said. “That’s one of the reasons that I chose VCU is the positive vibe that I got from coach Smart, in that he was a great guy. Him staying at VCU just shows what kind of good person that he is.”