Not since Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas teams of the 1990s has a team unleashed 40 minutes of chaos quite like that of Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED senior writer Luke Winn explores the full court press defense that VCU’s head coach Shaka Smart has branded as “Havoc”.
Smart’s love for a high pressure defense was born in high school when his own coach, Kevin Bravery, adopted a Rick Pitino press right out of a video. As Smart grew as a player and coach and learned from coaches such as Akron’s Keith Dambrot, Florida’s Billy Donovan and Clemson’s Oliver Purnell, he began to pick apart and rework different press models until he was left with his current program. Havoc has caused many a headache and frustration this season, as VCU went on a 13 game win streak from Nov. 28 to Jan. 19 and currently stand at 16-5. The Rams steal the ball on 17.7% of their possessions and force turnovers 29.3% of the time, both good for No. 1 nationally. Daniel Roose, VCU’s strength and conditioning coach, explains how speed and strength contribute to the team’s defensive domination.
“I’m not worried about creating strength,” Roose says. “What would that do for us? We’re not walking it up in the Big Ten against Wisconsin. All I care about is creating ridiculous amounts of energy.” (PAGE 45)
Wreaking havoc in the NCAA has been a progressive process since Smart’s hire in 2009, but Smart said it is finally turning into the predator and prey model he has been hoping for. The team reached the final four as a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2011 and even then the full court press was not at its height. “That,” smart says, “was only half havoc.” (PAGE 45)