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March 15, 2018

Shaka Smart

Nashville, Tennessee

THE MODERATOR: Head coach of the Longhorns is with us, Shaka Smart. He'll start off with a statement about being in Nashville, about his team. Coach?

SHAKA SMART: Before I do that, I just want to say that -- speak for our whole program. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of Augie Garrido, particularly Jeannie. Augie was a mentor of mine during my first couple years at Texas and this is terribly sad news. Thinking about all of his loved ones.

We're really excited to be in Nashville. Great opportunity for our team. Our team has been through a lot of twists and turns this season. We've had some great experiences that we've learned a lot from. Our guys have come together. They've spent a lot of time together trying to figure out how we can be better as a team.

So hopefully, tomorrow night -- or tomorrow afternoon, against Nevada, we can be the best version of Texas. Because when we've been that, we've done some really good things.

Q. Shaka, you look around, obviously, there's a lot of talent around here. Mo is a guy that looks like a potential lottery pick, maybe has the most untapped potential. Does he really need to step up and assert himself and sort of prove something, maybe to everybody else but especially sort of to himself since he's been out and kind of banged up the last few weeks?
SHAKA SMART: Well, one of the reasons that he wanted to play college basketball was so he could play in the NCAA tournament. Now he's here. Mo is a great team guy. He's here with his teammates. He's enjoying the experience.

But you're right, when that ball goes up in the air, that's what it's really about. And he's very motivated. One of the things that we've tried to help him understand this season is some of the guys you're going up against on a night in, night out basis, they're a lot better than maybe you thought they were coming in.

And he's had some humbling experiences, going back to November, when guys have gotten the better of him on certain plays or even over the course of a game.

So I think the first step against Nevada is understanding who they have and knowing what he has to do to be successful against them, along with his teammates. But he's motivated. In terms of having something to prove, he better. I mean, that's what this time of year's all about. If you don't have something to prove, there's something wrong with you.

In terms of potential, I mean, we knew this when we signed him. Whatever NBA team drafts him will know this. Mo is years away from being the player that he will be, but he's pretty darn good right now. He's someone that can dominate a game on the defensive end. He's someone that can dominate a game, rebounding the basketball, and he's gotten better and better offensively.

So we just want to help him be the best version of Mo tomorrow, and that will go a long way into our team playing well.

Q. Coach, I think you just mentioned that Mo has gotten better offensively as the season has gone on. What, specifically, about his offensive game do you feel like has improved over the course of the season?
SHAKA SMART: Well, right up until the day he got hurt, he got hurt in our game at Oklahoma in mid-February. But he was spending a lot of extra time on his shooting, on his post moves, free throws. He was doing a lot of extra work and it was starting to pay off.

It's interesting, because certain people in our local media were giving me a hard time about him shooting 3s. He actually had a three or four-game stretch where he shot over 70 percent from the 3-point line, got fouled shooting a 3, went to the foul line, made his free throws.

So he's gotten a lot better with shooting. His feel around the basket, when there's traffic, when he has multiple defenders around him, has improved. His ball handling, his passing.

To be honest with you, the biggest challenge for him is going to be this is his first full game back since he got hurt, so kind of getting back in the rhythm of where he was and being as aggressive and assertive as he possibly can be. Because playing against a veteran team, a team with a lot of toughness and aggressiveness like Nevada, he has to be that in order to be successful.

Q. I was just wondering, since the Selection Sunday, I didn't know how much communication you all had with Andrew Jones at all, if you all have interacted with him since coming to Nashville. What he's meant to the program before and after his diagnosis.
SHAKA SMART: Our guys talk to him all the time. I try to stay in touch with him as much as I can. He's in Houston right now, and he's still undergoing treatment. Andrew, he's got an unbelievable fight and a spirit that rubbed off on our guys before this diagnosis and continues to rub off on our guys.

He's someone that sets an example for our team as a guy who loves the game of basketball. And if you go back to, you know, when all of us first started playing this game, you played because you loved it and you played because it was something that brought a smile to your face and a lot of joy.

Andrew's always been that way. The game's been taken away from him temporarily. We're all hopeful that he can beat this disease so that he can become the basketball player that he wants to become again.

But right now, our focus is on keeping him at the front of our mind, as a central part of our team, and trying to represent him in the best way that we can while we're here.

Q. Shaka, I've seen Darrin Horn, one of your assistants mentioned in lists of possible candidates elsewhere. First off, what has he given to your staff? What has he added to your staff? How do you take that when guys on your staff are looked at as possible head coaching candidates elsewhere?
SHAKA SMART: I think it's a compliment to your staff. It's a compliment to those guys. I think we've got a really good staff. Those guys have done a great job with our guys.

Darrin Horn, specifically, over the three years we've been in Texas, has done a terrific job with our bigs. Going back to Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh. Last year, Jarrett Allen. This year, Mo and Jericho and Dylan and all of our bigs. He's helped those guys on a daily basis get better.

More importantly, be in the right frame of mind to be their best. That's an underrated part of coaching.

When guys from our staff, and we haven't had anyone yet at Texas, but we had four at VCU go on to get coaching jobs, to be honest, that is right up there next to players going on and reaching their ultimate goal for me as a thing that I get the most joy and excitement out of.

You got a guy sitting behind you named Jamion Christian that's been to two NCAA tournaments at Mount St. Mary's and he worked for us at VCU. I follow their games just as closely as I do anyone else.

If a guy on our current staff was to get a head coaching job, I'd be ecstatic. I'm one of those guys, when I was an assistant, I worked for different types of head coaches. I worked with the old school head coaches that don't really want you to look at anything, and then I worked for some that, you know, they're behind you every step of the way, promote everything you do.

I always told myself I was going to be in the latter category. So we're fortunate to have good guys on our staff. If they get opportunities, that's terrific.

Q. Shaka, how close did you come to getting the Martin twins back in the day? And number two, what problem do they present to you?
SHAKA SMART: Those guys are really, really good. I don't think I could count -- I mean, I think there's -- I could count on one hand the number of guys that we've played all year long, and you know the schedule we've played, Cedric, that are more dangerous than those guys.

The challenges that they present, they're extremely versatile. They actually, they both play -- they play every position for them because of the way they play. But both of them, their natural position is kind of small forward, big wing. That's one spot we don't have.

We had a pretty good one last year that has since moved on. So that's the first thing is just matching up with them.

And then Caleb is a phenomenal scorer. He's always been wired to score. He's extremely confident. He really gets going. His first step is very, very fast.

Cody is as versatile as there is in college basketball. He literally can do anything you ask a guy to do on the court, rebound, defend, play point guard, initiate offense, shoot, drive, post up. Whatever you need.

We didn't come very close to getting them. I wish we would have -- those guys would have been all-time greats. I mean their jerseys would have been up in the rafters if they'd have come to VCU. They'd probably be up in the rafters at Nevada.

I went there to see them and I remember having some great conversations on the phone with their mom, single mom who is just a great, great lady. And the boys, they weren't much on the phone. You know, they didn't have much to say. But he were polite.

But I went to see them, and I was like wow, these guys would be phenomenal. About a week later, they committed to NC State, so I obviously didn't make much of an impression.

Then when they were transferring a couple years ago, I actually called them and I think they expressed, you know, an interest in coming to visit. But at the time, we only had one scholarship, and there were a package deal, going together.

Those are the type of situations where you got to find a scholarship. I'm not saying we would have got them, but those guys are terrific. I'm a big fan of theirs.

Q. You just mentioned the Martin twins, but Nevada obviously has two other all conference players in Jordan Caroline and Kendall Stephens. Is there a player who is the heartbeat of team or the player who makes the team go?
SHAKA SMART: I think Caroline is as much of that as anyone. I mean, it's hard to say that Cody or Caleb, you know, isn't the heartbeat. But I think what Jordan Caroline does for them is he gives them an unbelievable toughness and swagger and fight to them.

Just watching them on tape and on TV, he seems to be the guy that has the biggest chip on his shoulder of their players. Obviously, a lot of the times, he's shorter than the guy he's going up against, but he's almost always more aggressive. Seems like he wants it more. Tougher, more physical.

So over the last few days, we've been conveying that to our team, because doesn't really matter if you're three, four, five inches taller if the guy you're playing against has more heart, more toughness, more fight. So I would say he's the guy.

Then you mentioned Stephens. He's as good a shooter as I've seen in college basketball. He's just -- you can't give him space because he's got unbelievable size if you let him get that shot off. He's so deadly.

Q. Shaka, interested to know how well do you know Augie, and you both are philosophical coaching types. Did you ever speak to him about the game inside the games that you coach?
SHAKA SMART: All the time. I knew Augie really well. He kind of took me under his wing when I first got to Texas. He came over to practice -- a lot of people don't know this. Augie is a basketball guy. Augie played basketball. That was kind of his first love.

Obviously, baseball turned out pretty well for him.

But he came to practice a couple times, and one of my favorite things to do was just sit and listen to him talk about his philosophy on coaching. There's so many things that I've taken from him. I'll never forget, we went to Magnolia Cafe. It was Coach Kuyper, myself, Augie and a guy by the name of Ken Ravizza who works for the Chicago Cubs.

Coach Kuyper and I said about five words over the course of two hours and those guys talked the whole time. I have this black book that I make notes in, and I just filled it up.

The thing that I loved about Augie is his passion and how much he cared about his guys, and he was unrelenting in expecting and demanding that people care about and respect the game to the level that he did.

And to be honest, I think that was probably a frustration for him at times in some of the latter years. As a coach, that can be frustrating when you want certain things more than -- for a guy more than he wants himself.

But Augie was as good as anyone at getting guys to see the light and I'm going to miss him a lot.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Best of luck.

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