Fan-in-chief Obama draws popular basketball coach for Virginia rally

May 4, 2012

President Barack Obama’s big re-election campaign rally in Virginia on Saturday will feature a speaker who could be the most popular man in the battleground state.

It’s not a politician, like Tim Kaine, the former governor now running for the U.S. Senate, who will also be at Virginia Commonwealth University for the event. Two other Democratic Virginia politicians, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb, will not be there.

It is Shaka Smart, VCU’s basketball coach, who will host the rally before Obama speaks.  

Smart is likely to be the event’s biggest draw — after the president and first lady Michelle Obama. The charismatic coach is hugely popular for leading the VCU Rams to unexpected success on the basketball court, and for staying at the school when bigger programs came calling. Smart, who is making $1.2 million a year at VCU, earlier this year turned down a $2.6 million a year contract to coach at the University of Illinois — incidentally in Obama’s home state.

Obama is a huge basketball fan who cheers for his hometown Chicago Bulls and took British Prime Minister David Cameron to the NCAA college basketball tournament in March.

Obama also releases his own bracket of picks every year for the 64-team college championship tournament — although his picks have not reflected a great deal of faith in Smart’s team.

When VCU made its shock run to the “Final Four” semi-finals in 2011, Obama picked them to lose in the first round. This year, the president did better, correctly selecting the mid-major school, a 12th seed, to upset number 5 Wichita State in their first tournament game. Unfortunately for Smart, Obama also correctly forecast his team’s fate in the second round – a loss to Indiana.

Picture Credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes


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I’ve lived in Virginia all my life. I just took an informal poll around the office and the name Shaka Smart wasn’t familiar to anyone. He may be popular in Richmond, but it’s a huge stretch to say he’s the “most popular man int he battleground state.”

Posted by typed21 | Report as abusive

Hah. Huge stretch indeed. I follow sports alot and had to read the article to remember who he was. Set aside what end of the political spectrum one is on for a moment, Shaka is a great coach and did some remarkable things with VCU basketball last year. But to say he somehow brings clout to politics anywhere in VA except possibly on the VCU campus is more than a huge stretch. Had VCA won the tournament, material influence in Richmond? Possibly… Coaches, athletes, actors etc should stick with what they do well.

Posted by VikingNova | Report as abusive

While there are always going to be people who or not conversant in a particular sphere, whether politics, pop music, entertainment or sports, now that you know who he is, can you think of any Virginian who is more popular? The best we could come up with in our office as I was writing this was either the current or former Senator Warner – although we would argue not in this era of intense partisanship in politics. Thanks for reading!

Posted by ReutersZengerle | Report as abusive

Agreed… he’s a virtual unknown in Northern Virginia, where most of the people are.

President visits VCU in Richmond. The city has a large black population, at a school with a large black population, hosted by a black coach for a black President.

I guess the Prezizzle needed some love today.

Posted by imacracker | Report as abusive

Yeah right even people that don’t live in Virginia knows who Shaka Smart is. So DON’T HATE you hater.

Posted by OsamaKiller | Report as abusive

@imacracker: Cracker, your statement sounded incorrect, so I checked the facts. Richmond is 69% white, and 19% black. VCU–with over 32,000 students–is 56% white and 17% black (10% Asian, etc). All VCU presidents have been white, including the current one, Michael Rao. (His father is of subcontinental Indian heritage.) Most likely President Obama is visiting the state capital of Richmond because it’s the seat of state government, and is easy to access, being more centrally located in the state, and over 80% of its students live in Va. Meanwhile, Northern Va. (NOVA) is already plenty aware of all of DC politics (in that most of the fed’l gov’t lives there), with its population having ample means and easy access to attend any governmental event. An urban university as large as VCU provides an excellent GOTV opportunity to inspire Va’s borderline voters and to push for voter outreach, esp. since it’s a state university that draws students from throughout the state. Perhaps you were thinking of Virginia STATE University, in Petersburg, which IS largely and traditionally an Af-Am university (initially devoted primarily to agricultural degrees). But VCU is a very different university, with its arts and humanities on an academic campus in a historic neighorhood, while its vast medical, hospital and research campus sits right across from the state government buildings. Thus, it actually does provide the ideal opportunity for any political candidate or visiting dignitaries, which is why many have made the urban university a necessary stop.

Posted by asamatteroffact | Report as abusive