UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): In a statement issued by VCU, head basketball coach Shaka Smart said he will remain will remain with the team.
“There are great things to accomplish at VCU and I’m looking forward to building on the successes of our program and university,” Smart said in the statement.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s memorable Final Four run last March catapulted head coach Shaka Smart onto the national scene and sent his individual stock soaring.
But while opportunities to move to a more prominent program abounded, Smart chose to stay put in Richmond where he signed an eight-year contract to continue to build the Rams into a perennial tournament contender.
In the wake of Smart’s decision to remain at VCU, school athletic director Norwood Teague commended his head basketball coach, saying Smart “exemplifies everything that is right about college athletics, and VCU is ecstatic about the future under his leadership.”
Now, after leading the Rams made it back to the Big Dance and pulled off another first-round upset, Smart is sticking with his commitment.
On Wednesday Smart told Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas that he is not interested in becoming the school’s new head basketball coach, according to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times.
The offer is believed to have been worth at least $2.5 million per year, according to the report, which is consistent with a report from Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton and Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who were also rumored to be on the Illini’s radar, have both said they are not interested in the job.
Smart follows in the footsteps of other so-called mid-major coaches who have spurned power conference schools to stay with the teams that elevated them to prominence. Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Butler coach Brad Stevens have been targets for numerous coaching searches but decided to stay put.
But while he won’t be making headlines by signing on with a new school, Smart will be in the spotlight this weekend when he joins the CBS NCAA tournament coverage team. Smart and Kansas State coach Frank Martin will be in the Atlanta studio for the region semifinals and finals Thursday through Saturday on CBS and TBS.
The 34-year-old Smart has led the Rams to an 84-27 record over three seasons in Richmond including a CBI championship in 2009-10 and last season’s Final Four run.
ESPN’s Andy Katz recently spoke with Few and Stevens about what led them to turn down lucrative contracts elsewhere.
“If you’re winning and advancing to the NCAA tournament and your teams are good enough to go far in the tournament, then what else do you need?” Few said.
In December, Smart explained his decision to turn down North Carolina State, Maryland and others in an interview with the Post’s Steve Yanda. His words continue to resonate.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere,” Smart said. “I just felt like at VCU, we have a great opportunity with the players that we have. We have a young team. We’ve got a chance to get these guys better going into the next two, three years. I think we can do some really good things. I didn’t feel like it was right to leave my players and our program here. It feels like we just got here.”
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