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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Meet the 26-page culture document Shaka Smart uses to ‘sustain championship-level success’

First-years Tre Norman and Zaide Lowery both read Shaka Smart’s culture document while being recruited. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Bits and pieces of it are everywhere.

From the signs and plaques hanging throughout the offices and locker rooms in the Al McGuire Center to shirts and hats the team personnel wear, the 26-page culture document every Shaka Smart recruit receives is proudly displayed throughout Marquette.

Created by Smart after his only losing season as a head coach — 2016-17 Texas where he finished 11-22 — the culture doc outlines the principles he has instilled at Marquette in his three years at the helm. A Bible of sorts for him and the program. Smart’s three core values, relationships, growth and victory, have their own section, and each of those values has seven principles underneath them.

“[It] lays out who we want to be, who we strive every day to become and knowing that we’re never going to be perfect,” Smart said. “Our culture doc includes our mission to create and sustain championship-level success, and that’s not just on the court in games, that’s in everything we do.”

Smart shares the culture doc with high school prospects to ensure the players he recruits have the same beliefs as him.

“This place, like anywhere else, is not for everyone,” Smart said. “We want to get up early on a shared understanding of, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be like if you come here, and this is how you’re going to be coached and this is what you’re going to be expected to do. And this is the type of teammate that we’re going to expect you to be.'”

Even though Smart created the doc at Texas, all of his players, staff and volunteers at Marquette have read it regardless of whether or not they were Golden Eagles before he was. 

“When I first opened it, my reaction was like ‘Wow,'” first-year guard Zaide Lowery said. “It’s super different. It was a lot at first but as we kept reading it, it made sense to me.”

Earlier this year, the three first-years, Tre Norman, Al Amadou and Lowery, were eating with Smart at Sweet Diner in downtown Milwaukee. Part way through the meal, Smart — in typical Smart fashion — turned the conversation towards relationships and more specifically, the culture doc.

“It was unique because you know, coming from high school you don’t worry about things like that; things that have to do with culture, relationships and growth,” Norman said.

But for the culture doc to mean something, Smart said the program needs to embody every word within the 26 pages in everything it does, both on and off the court.

“If it’s just words on paper, it doesn’t really matter,” Smart said. “Our job is to bring it to life.”

And bring it to life he does.

When he first arrived in Milwaukee, he got rid of the individual accolades hanging on the walls of the Al McGuire Center and put up team awards, a culture doc point of emphasis. The weekly and post-game awards that different players get all relate to the culture doc. The post-practice 3-minute talks Smart has with his players are to go over specific customs written in the culture doc in a one-on-one setting.

Norman said that while he knew what was in the culture doc before coming to Marquette, he could feel the words being put into action from day one, even when nothing was on the table.

“It could just be the guys in a locker room or playing pickup, but we’re gonna do the exact same thing we would do a in practice, in our pickup game that means nothing,” Norman said. “The older guys really do a great job of just emphasizing that and making sure that the younger guys coming in know that it’s ‘our way’ and there’s no other way around it.”

It’s not just Smart’s doctrine; the entire program has bought into the culture document and its messages.

“It’s every last coaching staff, everybody behind the cameras, the people behind the desk,” Norman said. “Everybody’s on the same page, everybody emphasizes the same thing … It could be me and an assistant coach or me and a manager, and they’re not going to let me slack on a rep, or they’re not going to let me put my head down or get down on myself because we wouldn’t do that if he’s (Smart) around or if we’re in a game.” 

Before home games, the jumbotron in Fiserv Forum displays messages explaining the “-isms” of the program. They come from the culture document. For the entirety of Smart’s three years as head coach of the Golden Eagles, he has been teaching the Marquette faithful the culture doc, just like he would a recruit.

So, when Nov. 6 rolls around and No. 5 Marquette starts its season against Northern Illinois, and seemingly quirky messages are put up on the scoreboard throughout the game, just know where they originate from.

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached [email protected] or on Twitter/X @JackAlbrightMU.

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About the Contributor
Jack Albright
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.

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