Final Four Preview: VCU
You've got to wonder what Jeff Capel is thinking.
He's watching a young, black, energetic coach guide Virginia Commonwealth to uncommon success. He's probably watching from home. Capel doesn't have an office anymore, after all. Oklahoma recently filled his old one with Lon Kruger.
Capel used to be that coach. Capel built that success.
You've got to wonder what Anthony Grant is thinking.
He's watching Virginia Commonwealth handle the giants of college basketball. He's watching Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen and the rest turn themselves into a Final Four team. He's probably watching after just returning home from New York City. His Alabama team was in the Final Four, too – of the NIT.
Grant brought in those guys. Grant knocked off the first Goliath.
Nine seasons ago as a 27-year-old, Capel took over a program that was barely able to hang in the middle of the Colonial Athletic Association pack. He developed players. He recruited future stars such as Eric Maynor. He won a Colonial title, losing in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
He had four good years in Richmond. Four very important years. Four years that led to – two coaches later – a Final Four.
In his place came Anthony Grant, an older coach who had served 10 seasons on Billy Donovan's bench at Florida. Grant was a great hire, everyone said. He proved it in a three year span, going 76-25 en route to two NCAA Tournaments.
Grant led Maynor and many of Capel's recruits to a 79-77 stunner of Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Call it a down year for the Blue Devils, but the win only solidified VCU's place as an elite mid-major.
Both left for bigger opportunities – the natural byproduct of mid-major success. Capel went off to Oklahoma, where he got five seasons, one Blake Griffin and walking papers after a disasterous last two seasons. Grant just finished his second year at Alabama, where he led the team to an SEC West title and a strong bubble case before reaching the NIT title game.
You've got to wonder what they're thinking.
Shaka Smart's yet to lose a postseason game. His team won the CBI last year, and now he's gone from one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament field – degraded by the necessity of a “First Four” play-in game – to the Final Four.
Smart's one of the hottest names in coaching. He's already been buzzed-about for several high profile jobs. After all, he's 55-20 after two seasons. He's only 33. He's charasmatic enough to quote “Scarface” and “Major League” in press conferences.
And he's only making roughly $424,000, according to a recent USA Today report.
The big schools want a guy like Smart to represent them in public. Just like they wanted Capel. Just like they wanted Grant.
And you wonder … what are those guys thinking? What do they think as they watch the program they built eclipse the programs they left for?