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October 25, 2016

Shaka Smart

Kansas City, Missouri

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by coach Shaka Smart from the University of Texas. Coach, your thoughts about the upcoming season?

SHAKA SMART: Really happy to be here today with two of our players, Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach. We've been practicing for over three weeks, and guys are really tired of playing against each other, so looking forward to getting a chance to go against other competition.

We have a really young team, lost a lot of guys off last year's team. Really excited about the possibilities with this year's team. Everyone's asked what the keys are for our season this year. It's all about growth and maturation and understanding what's going to go into winning and then having a willingness and a level of discipline to follow that process.

Q. Shaka, I know this year's roster doesn't have the scholarship-player depth that last year's did. But does it offer you more versatility in terms of the way you can defend teams and attack them on offense?
SHAKA SMART: We'll see. I think it's definitely a more versatile group from the standpoint of last year the ball was in Isaiah Taylor's hands, and he was going to make a decision to make a play. Everybody knew that on our team. Everyone knew that on the team we were playing against. I think this year there is going to be more interchangeable parts, particularly on our perimeter with different guys playing the point guard position. Different guys playing off the ball. We're going to have to play point guard by committee, and that will be interesting to follow.

Q. Coach, talk about that transition from VCU and Texas and the Big 12, all that you've endured last year?
SHAKA SMART: Yeah, it was a fun transition, and continues to be a transition because we're certainly far from having our program all the way established to where we wanted it to be. I think we've made a lot of strides. There's been a lot of personnel changes just in the time that I've been at Texas. We lost a lot of guys. Had five seniors graduate, had a junior leave.

So anytime you have those type of changes, what you try to do is teach your new guys what you want to be about in terms of your program, not just on the court, but off the court. That's been, to me, the best part of the transition is that challenge every day of helping these guys understand what we feel like is going to go into their success both individually and collectively as a group.

I love being in Austin. I love being at Texas. It's a great place. This league is a lot of fun. It's a great challenge, and looking forward to this season.

Q. You're literally maybe 360 days older than me. So your experience, obviously, you're the youngest coach in this league. The four years that you've been head coach of these teams, what have you learned about yourself and your coaching staff? How has it made it better from going from VCU to the Big 12 and how these coaches are and taking little bits and pieces from them?
SHAKA SMART: Actually, this is my eighth year as a head coach, and I still feel like there's so much left to learn. But one of the things I try to use hopefully as an advantage is the fact that I am young, and hopefully I can connect with these guys and have a level of trust and love between us, a relationship that can be based on something beyond just the game of basketball.

But what I've learned is in the Big 12 you obviously have to have an understanding of what other teams are doing, what other coaches are doing. You'd be crazy not to steal some of the stuff that's successful at other places. So I've got a ton of respect for coaches in this league. They're some of the best coaches in the country. Hopefully, when we see something that they do well, we can steal it.

Q. Could you talk about the importance of signing Jarrett Allen and what you expect him to bring this year?
SHAKA SMART: Well, Jarrett's a great kid, and we're really appreciative of him for the opportunity to coach him, just like we are with all of our guys. He's a phenomenal player, and he's only getting better and better. He's a rare blend of a guy that is very, very long and athletic and has great size. But also has very good touch around the basket and just has some great natural instincts. So for us, he's going to make a big impact right away. We're going to play him at multiple positions. He's going to be a guy that gets better and better over the course of the season.

The exciting thing with Jarrett is as good as he is, he can get so much better, and there is so much room for growth there. He's a guy that I think is just now learning how hard he can really work as a player. One of the things that's so exciting is seeing how much he's in the gym now compared to when he first got on campus.

Q. Talking about Jarrett, do you envision him and Shaq playing together at the four and the five? Do you expect kind of one at a time there? How do you see that?
SHAKA SMART: No, those guys will play a lot together. If we started the game today, those two would start exactly as you mentioned, with Jarrett at the four and Shaq at the five.

Q. Coach, you mentioned Isaiah Taylor. Last year was the first year that the NCAA instituted players could come back. But the situation with what he's gone through, with going into the draft and not sticking with the team, reflect on more work that needs to be done in terms of advising players in these situations?
SHAKA SMART: Well, to me, I think it's still an imperfect system. I think it's all about guys being able to do whatever it is they want to do and have options, but also have accurate information as best they possibly can. Because the reality is there is a very, very small segment of the population that actually has a pick or has a vote on a pick. Then there's everyone else that doesn't.

In Isaiah's case, he made the decision to come back after his sophomore year when we first got there, and I think from there he really decided this was going to be his last year. He mostly had his mind made up. We're just 1,000 percent supportive of him and whatever it is that he wanted to do. Even though he went undrafted, even though he didn't make an Opening Day roster, I think he's event eventually going to be an NBA player. I think he's a guy going to continue to develop and grow. The question for guys like that is where is the best place to do that?

For us at the college level, there is no question one of our biggest goals as coaches, and I think I speak for any of the coaches, is to help our guys develop and ultimately reach their goals.

Q. Shaka, you've kind of talked about the makeup of this team. But how much closer is this team right now to your vision of where you want to get to in terms of your roster and the style you want to play than maybe the team you took over last year with no offense to those players?
SHAKA SMART: That's a great question. I think we're still a ways away from where we ultimately want to be. In some ways, this year's team has maybe more of the makeup that we want to have, but at the same time, we have a long way to go from a standpoint of maturity, growth, understanding of what truly goes into winning.

But I do like the fact that we're highly competitive. I think everything starts there, regardless of how you play, style of play-wise, you have to have a level of competitiveness and a level of fight. Our guys have shown that in practice. I've been really pleased with the results there in practice. But now when you get in the game, how are you able to put it together against another team? That will be a really fun process for us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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