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Shaka Smart excited for fresh start at Marquette: ‘This is a basketball-crazy place’

He looked the same and talked about “being connected.” But Shaka Smart had a different cheer for those inside the Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee.

“We are…,” Smart yelled.

“Marquette!,” the crowd responded.

Smart was introduced to his new fan base on Monday while Texas officials were still feverishly working behind the scenes to nail down his UT successor.

More:Golden: Why Shaka Smart had to leave Texas after six seasons

Everyone, including recruits, are eager to see what the Longhorns do with their men’s basketball vacancy. UT officials went through a similar process one year ago on the women’s side, and now coach Vic Schafer’s Horns are one victory away from the Final Four.

Four-star guard Tamar Bates from IMG Academy in Florida couldn’t wait any longer and announced he would like to be released from his commitment to Texas.

“After a lot of careful consideration and conversation with my family I have decided to request a release from my letter of intent with the University of Texas Men’s Basketball team,” Bates tweeted on Monday. 

Meanwhile, there was still radio silence coming out of Lubbock. Texas Tech officials have not announced any contract extension or raise for men’s basketball coach Chris Beard, presumably the No. 1 candidate on UT athletic director Chris Del Conte’s list.

More:If not Chris Beard, then who? A look at possible Texas coaching candidates

Del Conte did have talks with Royal Ivey, according to an ESPN report. Ivey played for former UT coach Rick Barnes and is now an NBA assistant. However, UT officials are likely to choose someone with previous head coaching experience, a source told the American-Statesman.

Former Texas coach Shaka Smart was introduced as the new coach at Marquette on Monday.

The new Texas coach, whoever it is, will likely have to rebuild almost the entire roster. Three players have already announced their plans to leave, and others are headed out the door, either into the NBA draft or the NCAA transfer portal. 

One team source said guard Jase Febres and forward Brock Cunningham appear to be the only sure-fire locks to stay. Guards Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey are evaluating their options, and it’s believed Matt Coleman will either go pro or leave as a grad transfer.

Smart has to learn all the players’ names and start over at Marquette, too.

“I want to say I’m so excited to be a part of the Marquette Nation,” Smart said at his introductory press conference. “Growing up in this part of the country, you can’t help but follow this basketball program.”

A Wisconsin native, Smart said his mother still lives about an hour from the Marquette campus. “When I told her I was coming here, words can't express how overjoyed she is,” Smart said.

Smart was 109-86 the last six seasons at Texas but did not win a single NCAA Tournament game. He left UT perhaps before being pushed out. Marquette is hoping the new scenery rekindles the magic Smart had at Virginia Commonwealth, where the coach was 272-142 and reached the 2011 Final Four.

More:After six uneven seasons at Texas, Shaka Smart headed to Marquette

By leaving on his own, Smart saved UT from having to pay the final two years of his guaranteed contract worth $7.1 million.

“To our incredible fan base, I would say this, get ready for some hoops,” Marquette athletic director Bill Scholl said.

Smart said he enjoyed “six great, great years at Texas.” When he listed the reasons why he took the Marquette job, Smart listed three reasons why it was “an absolute slam-dunk.”

“This is a basketball-crazy place, this is a basketball-centric athletic department,” he said. Marquette had a family atmosphere, and the administration was aligned, Smart said.

“I grew up about an hour from here,” Smart said. “I was born in Madison, spent my whole childhood in Wisconsin, and it’s phenomenal being back. But the reason I came back was Marquette. That's why I’m here.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.