RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart has decided against coaching at Illinois, VCU confirmed this afternoon, after several days of mounting speculation.
VCU lost in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, and Smart immediately became the main focus of the Illinois search to replace Bruce Weber. Smart said in a statement that he is not pursuing any coaching openings.
“I am very grateful for the support and belief in the coaching staff and basketball program that comes from the very top of our university’s leadership ... as well our our phenomenal fans,” Smart said in the statement. “There are great things to accomplish at VCU, and I’m looking forward to building on the successes of our program and university.”
Sources said in recent days he had reservations about recruiting the talent-rich but challenging Chicago area, where Illinois struggled to get the top players under Weber.
Illinois appears to be targeting African-American candidates. Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who is reportedly on the school’s list, is not interested in the job, a source said. And rumors about Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin were “completely fabricated,” according to a Tennessee official. Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton also has been linked to Illinois but an official at the school said “coach doesn’t discuss personal issues.“
There is some pressure for athletics director Mike Thomas to hire a minority after two members of the Illinois board of trustees voted against approving the contract of new football coach Tim Beckman in January.
Some thought Thomas might have an inside track on hiring Smart because the two were at Akron simultaneously for two years, Thomas as athletics director and Smart as an assistant coach.
“Coach Smart recognizes — as do the rest of the university community, alumni and fans — that VCU is the place to be right now,” VCU president Michael Rao said. “He continues to demonstrate his commitment to VCU and its pursuit of excellence athletically and academically.”
The decision came a day before Smart is scheduled to begin three days of work as an analyst for CBS on the NCAA Tournament and a day after he was in North Carolina on a recruiting trip.