HOUSTON — Shaka-mania is difficult to escape.
During an interlude at Reliant Stadium Thursday afternoon, one group of photographers took pictures of another group taking pictures of Virginia Commonwealth University coach Shaka Smart being interviewed by ESPN.
The 33-year-old’s face was impassive, as usual, when he answered the same questions he’s been asked for the last two and a half weeks.
The heartache didn’t show.
Smart’s grandfather, Walter King, died Tuesday in Chicago at 90 years old. With Smart’s father not in his life, King was his strongest male influence.
Appreciation was one of the things his grandfather taught him, Smart told his players. Otherwise, Smart hasn’t talked about it when them or revealed much emotion. But the players understand King’s importance to their coach.
Smart knew his grandfather was ailing. Last week in San Antonio, Smart recalled his grandfather clipping every basketball story in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times and sending it to him. About the trips to Chicago where his grandfather spoiled him.
“He taught me about humility,” Smart said that day. “He taught me a lot about manners, how to treat people. How to express appreciation when people do things for you.”
Back at Reliant Stadium, the interview and Shaka-mania continued unabated. But it was hard to escape the feeling something, someone was missing.