Shaka Smart brings his version of “havoc” to China in his coaching debut with Texas against Washington in the first regular-season college basketball game played in that country.
They will meet Saturday in Shanghai — Friday night back in the United States — more than 7,000 miles from Smart’s new basketball home after leaving VCU.
“It’s as if there are eight guys on the floor sometimes,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar of Smart’s former VCU teams. “It’s a frenetic pace. They’re all over the place. They play hard and they’re scrappy. And they’re fun to watch, if you’re not playing against them.”
Smart, who rebuffed other offers in the past after guiding VCU to the Final Four, took over the Texas program and the expectations that come with it. He helped turn the Rams into a mid-major phenomenon and “havoc” became a household phrase in college hoops. His next challenge is getting the Longhorns back on top in the Big 12.
“When we get back, everyone on our team will have gained some really valuable personal and team experiences, both on the court in the game and off the court as well,” Smart said.
The matchup in Shanghai is the brainchild of Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who has made exposure in China a priority for the conference. There have been exhibition games in China, but it’s the first Division I men’s hoops game in the world’s most populated country.
Washington has embraced the trip, with players brushing up on Mandarin and taking a class on China for credit. The Huskies are sending a significant administrative staff with the team, including school president Ana Mari Cauce.
But at the core of the trip is a game that’s a critical first step in rebuilding the Washington program. The Huskies have overhauled their roster with eight new additions, including seven freshmen who will make their college debut on a unique first road trip.
“I’ve never been to China. I’ve always wanted to go,” said Washington freshman Dejounte Murray. “So I just want to go out there, see things I haven’t seen before, take pictures, but at the same time I’m there to win a basketball game with my team.”
The Huskies may not be as frantic on the court as the Longhorns, but it could be a high-tempo, entertaining game for the Chinese fans. The youth and athleticism on the Huskies’ roster gives them an opportunity to play a style from earlier in Romar’s tenure when his teams were known for speed and offense.
Romar said the Huskies would scout both Texas and VCU to figure out who they’re facing. On the flip side, Andrew Andrews is Washington’s only starter and main contributor returning from last year.
“Just watching Texas won’t give us an indication at all,” Romar said. “They’ll be completely different.”
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