Monday, December 28, 2015

Shaka Smart on UConn, loss of Cameron Ridley, and his former player, Terry Larrier

Shaka Smart met with the media on Monday afternoon in advance of Tuesday's but with UConn. The Longhorns will be without 6-10, 290-pound center Cameron Ridley, who broke his left foot in practice on Sunday and is out indefinitely. Ridley was averaging 12.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.


“He’ll bounce back. This certainly is not the end of his career, it’s just one of those things where it’s an unfortunate injury, unfortunate timing. As a team, we’re just gonna have to rally around him and everyone step up.”

Does this mean Texas will play more of the "havoc" style that Smart mastered at VCU the prior six seasons?

“As I’ve been saying since I got here, havoc is a mindset. It’s a way you think about yourself when you get out of bed. Then, the style of play comes from there. Does it mean we can extend the floor a little more? Does it mean our perimeter guys are gonna be even more involved in everything we’re doing? Yes. Does it mean, on offense, it makes more sense for us to get out and score in transition? Yes. But the mindset part, it’s something that just takes time to learn.”

Both teams will be without their starting centers, with Amida Brimah also out injured.

“Their best lineup, even when he was healthy, was to have four guys that are perimeter-type players in the game, with Daniel Hamilton being the biggest of those. But he’s such a dynamic, triple-threat guy -- he can shoot, drive or pass the ball so well -- that’s their best offensive team. In a way, it makes them harder to guard. Brimah, with what he did on the defensive end, not having him in there affects them defensively, much like not having Cam affects us on defense. Both teams, what we have to do is focus on ways on the offensive end where we can be most effective, and defensively, if you don’t have that big shot-blocker, you have to do a better job with your individual defense.”

Smart was asked if 6-11 Prince Ibeh would start in Ridley's place, and he said he wasn't sure, but seemed to indicate that was likely.

Smart also talked about Terry Larrier, whom he recruited to play for him at VCU last season before Smart took the Texas job and Larrier transferred to UConn.

“Great kid, very, very intelligent ... sometimes too smart for his own good. And I think he’s in a great program. When you leave a place, the hardest thing is leaving a guy like that, because I think that he was really making terrific progress. He came in as a guy with high expectations, came in, like most freshmen, he was taken aback a little bit by some of the challenges you get hit with as a freshman. But he’s through that, and I think that’s the exciting thing for Coach Ollie and his program. He’s got a freshman year under his belt where he’s had a lot of success. Now, he’s learning a new system, a new program. But he has a confidence level, because he’s had some success.”

Smart said he got a chance to speak with Larrier at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last month.

“We’ve talked some since the spring. We stay in contact from time to time. It’s always kind of a fine line, because you don’t want to be bothering other people’s players. But as a person, you care about a guy, you worked with him for a year, you spent a couple of years recruiting him. I just gave him a hug, told him I’m proud of him, I love him, and I want to see him keep doing well. He looked good, he continues to get stronger, physically. I’m happy for him.”

Here's what Ollie had to say about Larrier in the Bahamas:

It was pointed out to Smart that he and Ollie have been after many of the same players on the recruiting trail in recent years (Larrier, current Longhorn Tevin Mack, recent UConn commit Alterique Gilbert)

“I think it speaks more to those players. They’re really good players that are sought-after. And UConn’s recruiting at a high level, those guys have done a great job. We tried to recruit Alterique Gilbert, who they signed. They did a great job recruiting him and developing a relationship. That one wasn’t even close. They beat everyone by a mile.”

“Both programs want to bring in high-level guys that are also the type of kids that we want to coach -- good kids, want to get better, want to learn, want to be part of something bigger than themselves. I know that’s something that Kevin values and it’s something that I value.”

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