Hours before each game, Texas head coach Shaka Smart makes time for a quick workout either right before or right after the team meal. Then Smart waits, patiently but anxiously, for the game to start.
Smart says he’s kept up this tradition since his days as an assistant — before his 2011 VCU team became one of three No. 11 seeds to ever reach the Final Four, before he led the Rams to their highest AP ranking in school history and before then-athletic director Steve Patterson hired him to succeed Rick Barnes at Texas.
Now, leading into a key matchup at TCU on Wednesday and with the Longhorns on track to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, Smart is desperately trying to right the ship in search of the consistency that has been absent in his time at Texas.
“It’s better if you address it than leaving it unsaid,” Smart said. “Our guys are very aware of records and standings, and our guys talk about it. We need to completely immerse ourselves in the current moment … our preparation for TCU.”
The Longhorns currently sit at 2–4 in conference play — tied with Iowa State for seventh in the Big 12 — and have lost three games in a row, including a devastating 69-67 loss to LSU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
But even with the Longhorns running out of time to turn the season around and Smart’s seat gradually getting warmer, the fifth-year Texas head coach is still emphasizing the same values to his team — growth, passion and aggression.
“Any time you’re not as consistent as you want to be, that means you’re just not all the way there yet,” Smart said, emphasizing the need for better consistency in practice. “If you do what you set out to do, then those things get a little bit better and you try to do it again.”
The importance for a quick turnaround to save the season isn’t lost on the players. Earlier in the season, sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said he didn’t come to Texas to win the NIT Championship, which Texas did last year. Redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones and junior guard Matt Coleman III also expressed how great the need for a turnaround is after Saturday’s loss to LSU.
“The biggest thing is not finding but understanding what it takes to win,” Coleman said. “And just playing for the guy next to you with the message of, ‘Just lose yourself in the game.’”
Coming off a loss to LSU where a miraculous 16-point second-half comeback effort fell just short, Smart can’t emphasize enough the need for passion and a competitive spirit. He says the team analyzed what caused the deficit to the Tigers and what allowed Texas to seize a lead late in the fourth quarter.
Marching into Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena on Wednesday night, Smart and the Longhorns understand the team objective to steal a win in Fort Worth.
“Some of them are basketball X’s and O’s, and some of them are fight, aggressiveness and assertiveness,” Smart said. “That’s who we have to be for 40 minutes if we want to go on the road and beat a good team in TCU.”