Shaka Smart had beaten Southern California, Georgetown and Purdue in a span of five days, returned home for about 48 hours to prepare for the Sweet 16, and now it was time to get back on a plane. The bus was waiting outside of VCU's basketball facility. As bags were being loaded, Smart started to return to his office for a moment, at which point his wife, Maya, ran over and told him something, then watched him walk inside.
"And then a girl ran over to me and asked, 'Is that Shaka Smart?' And she was just shaking," Maya said. "I said, 'Yeah, that's Shaka.' And then she ran away from me and ran into the building. She just had to talk to him.' "
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Couple of days later, Shaka and Maya were in an elevator in San Antonio.
A few girls happened to be in the elevator, too.
"They just freaked out," Maya said. "It was more of the reception you would expect for Justin Timberlake or some kind of star."
At this, Maya laughed briefly.
"But," she said, "I guess he is a star now."
I got a text message from a friend Sunday night that read: "Shaka! Shaka! Shaka!" That's it. Just Shaka three times with exclamation points. I assumed my friend was excited because the coach he was watching tear through the NCAA tournament was a man he had actually had dinner with a few years earlier, and so I responded and asked if he had been bragging. My friend was confused. "Don't you remember when you came and met me that night, and I was with a Florida assistant who was in town recruiting?" I asked. "That was Shaka."
My friend had no idea.
Which means a guy who had dinner with Smart three years ago and didn't even remember is suddenly so excited about Smart that he's texting his name with exclamation points. That's one example -- and only one of many examples -- of how much Smart's life has changed during this improbable run to the Final Four. He's gone from a 31-year-old mostly unknown SEC assistant to a 32-year-old mostly unknown Colonial head coach to a 33-year-old superstar whose first name now trends on Twitter beside Jimmer and Kemba.
"Tell him to just wait," Butler coach Brad Stevens told me by phone, point being that things will change even more once the season ends regardless of whether Smart remains at VCU or accepts one of the multiple offers from a bigger program that'll almost certainly come his way.
"I try not to get caught up in that," Smart said. "My wife tries not to get caught up in that."
But it must be difficult, right?
|Shaka Smart is only beginning to realize how five NCAA tournament victories in a span of 12 days can change one's life. (US Presswire)|
But that life is over now.
"It is a little strange," said Maya, the founder of writingcoach.com -- an online resource that helps freelance journalists better understand the business side of writing. "I've been getting a lot more calls, texts, Facebook messages and just general outreach from people. So things have definitely changed in that way, but a lot of the details of our day-to-day life are exactly the same. Shaka just does what he does, and that's one of his strengths, that he consistently works hard and at a high level. The only difference is that rather than working for a regular-season game, this time he's working for a Final Four game. So the nuts and bolts really haven't changed at all. It's only the recognition of what he's doing that's been heightened."
And with that comes all this -- the countless television and radio interviews, previously improbable career opportunities, name chants, Twitter trends and elevators full of freaked-out girls. To her credit, Maya realizes this is now the life they live. She said she's going to keep being amused by it and continue to enjoy it. But, at the same time, she thinks she has a responsibility, too.
"I feel like part of my role of being a good wife is to kind of be a reality check," Maya said. "So we get back home from San Antonio [late Sunday], and after this big pep rally where thousands of people have been in the Siegel Center chanting 'Shaka, Shaka, Shaka,' I'm like, 'You've got to get the garbage out,' because they pick up our garbage at 5 in the morning on Monday mornings. That's his one chore around here -- taking out the garbage."
"He did it. He took out the garbage," Maya answered. "And then he brought the can back in before he went to work."