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“I wanted this to become a destination,” the VCU president said.

In four years, Smart’s salary has jumped from $350,000 to $1.5 million, and the school has already raised about two-thirds of what it needs to build a practice facility with a price tag near $15 million.

In an academic community, Rao said, there are other ways he can think of to spend the kind of money they are paying Smart, but none that bring the return on investment the school and athletic programs get in return for success on the court.

“I’ve never spent more money at an institution and gotten more thank yous for it,” Rao said.

Those thank yous also come in the form of donations from alumni and boosters that feed academic initiatives and other programs, he said, much like football is credited with doing at other schools.

Smart, meanwhile, is learning of the issues that arise as a program maintains a certain level of success, the kind that has seen the Rams finish in the top 40 of the RPI ratings two years running.

On the plus side, there’s players like Terrance Shannon, who finished his degree work at Florida State this year and opted to transfer to VCU, where he can play right away while doing graduate work.

On the down side, finding teams willing to play a home-and-home series has become the challenge Gonzaga coach Mark Few promised Smart it would be if the Rams continued their winning ways. Smart wants VCU to become one of those programs — like Gonzaga and Butler — with winning reputations larger than their conferences suggest.

Few “told me scheduling is the last thing to come around, and to be honest with you, that’s something that we’ve really struggled with,” Smart said, particularly since he and McLaughlin feel like the Rams have elevated their profile enough so teams should be willing to play on the Rams’ floor, too.

“I’m not saying they’re afraid,” Smart said. “They just won’t play.”