Smart coach leads Cinderella VCU to Final Four

In this photo provided by Virginia Commonwealth, VCU head coach Shaka Smart celebrates with his team after winning the southwest regional final game against Kansas in the NCAA college basketball tournament March 27, 2011, in San Antonio. VCU won 71-61. AP Photo/Virginia Commonwealth

March Madness lived up to its name this year. None of the top seeds made it to the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

However, Saturday's semifinals do feature some familiar names: Connecticut and Kentucky will be on hand. Butler is also back; the Indiana school nearly won it all last year.

And then there's Virginia Commonwealth.

CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts reports on the team nobody picked and the coach who's one of a kind.


HOUSTON - Shaka Smart's name is as unconventional as his journey to college basketball's promised land: the Final Four.

"Shaka was an African king," Smart said.

Smart's VCU Rams took the long way to get there. As a last-minute selection to the tournament, they were seen as a mere acorn among oak trees.

Who knew the blue bloods of basketball never stood a chance?

"We weren't 35-2 coming into this game, but we're playing our best basketball when it matters most, and that's why I'm sitting up here right now with a net around my neck," Smart told reporters after defeating top-seeded Kansas to get into the Final Four.

If the coach sounds confident, he is: He has both a winner's swagger and a scholar's mind.

Smart was raised by his mother in Oregon, Wis., just outside Madison. A star in high school, it wasn't just his stat sheet that attracted college coaches but his near-perfect SAT score. He was accepted to Harvard, Bale and Brown but chose Kenyon College in Ohio largely because of the man who would become a father figure.

Bill Brown was Smart's coach at Kenyon and gave him his first job. It wasn't Smart's only offer.

"A lot of the administrators tried to convince him to pursue his Ph.D. and possibly become a history professor," said Brown, now head coach at California University of Pennsylvania.

At 33, Smart is the second youngest coach to take a team to the Final Four. The Rams are this season's Cinderella story filled with both joy and heartbreak. Early last week, he and his wife learned they are expecting their first child, and on Tuesday his beloved grandfather died after a long illness.

"I'm just trying to approach this weekend the way that he would want me to approach it, which is putting 1,000 percent of my energy into our team and preparing to win," Smart said.

But his other father figure will be watching, along with the nation.

  • Byron Pitts

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