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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Why Shaka Smart’s players want to ‘run through a wall’ for him

Photo by Keifer Russell
Shaka Smart frequently practices what he preaches to his players.

Shaka Smart stood, jumped, kneeled and finally stood again with his arms raised way above his head — all in a matter of seconds — while on the sidelines during No. 8 Marquette’s 93-65 win over Southern. Looking like he was actually in the game, Smart was replicating his players’ stances while defending — acting out how he wants them to play.

Smart doesn’t just tell them, he shows them, one of the many examples of him practicing what he preaches. 

Now in his third year at the helm of the Golden Eagles, Smart has made a lot of changes to how the program operates, its core values and what he wants to see from his players. He holds them to a high bar — that he also sets for himself and the entire coaching staff.

“The reason that a lot of us as coaches try to hold ourselves to a high standard is that we’re trying to keep up with those guys,” Smart said. “Guys like Stevie Mitchell, Oso Ighodaro, Tyler Kolek, and that’s the type of dynamic that you want in your program.”

Before a preseason media availability, Smart said he just finished 36 minutes on the VersaClimber machine, which junior forward David Joplin spent his summer training on and what junior guard Kam Jones said is “the worst thing we got in the weight room.” 

In practice, Smart got involved in a loose ball drill, much to the delight of his players.

“When you have leaders that do what they tell us to do, and practice what they preach, it just makes us want to run through a wall for them because they run through a wall for us,” junior guard Stevie Mitchell said.

The latest example of that was in the Maui Invitational against then-No. 1 Kansas, when Smart got into it with Jayhawk graduate senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. at the first half under-4 media timeout. 

McCullar Jr. hit a 3-pointer in front of the Marquette bench and said something to Smart on his way down the court. Smart had none of it, immediately clapping back to McCullar Jr. and the Kansas coaching staff. In response, both benches cleared and Smart had to be held back by Sean Jones. 

It was Smart getting “lost in the fight,” a motto he and the team have. 

We’re Marquette. We are Marquette, and we don’t take a backseat to anyone,” Smart said to ESPN Milwaukee broadcasters Steve “The Homer” True and Tony Smith after the game in a radio interview. “If someone wants to step up and challenge us, okay, we’re going to challenge them right back.” 

Senior forward Oso Ighodaro said he didn’t see what happened, but immediately stepped in behind Smart.

“I just saw Coach get into it,” Ighodaro said in the postgame presser. “We talk about ‘compete forever.’ He’s as competitive as it gets. I thought we did a great job being lost in the fight the whole first half and the second half, the whole game.”

But Smart does it more than just in the heat of the moment during games.

During an open practice in October, Smart didn’t like his team’s intensity — or lack thereof. So he sent them down the court and back and called for the coaches to do push ups, which he did alongside his assistants.

“Everything that he talks about and wanting us to do, he does,” senior guard Tyler Kolek said. 

Mitchell said seeing the coaches join him in drills and workouts helps him stay motivated.

“We know that they’re not just going to tell us to just do something that they wouldn’t want to do themselves, or don’t believe we could do,” Mitchell said.

Now, Marquette is the No. 8 team in the country, and Smart is a big part of it.

He is doing what he makes his players do. The same cannot be said for every head coach in the country, much less every coach in the Top 25. He joins them in defensive stances while on the sidelines of a game and puts himself through the same workout program he makes his players do.

“He’s not just sitting and watching us doing it,” sophomore guard Chase Ross said.

Jumping, kneeling, yelling and screaming, Smart is along for the ride — literally.

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

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About the Contributors
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.
Keifer Russell
Keifer Russell, Staff Photographer
Keifer Russell is a junior from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin studying digital media and public relations and is a Staff Photographer of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire he enjoys rock climbing, photography (figures), as well as finding and listening to new music. He is very excited to further refine his photographic content over the next year

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