Smart No. 1 On Wake Forest’s Radar

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart is the No. 1 candidate for the Wake Forest head coach vacancy, according to sources.

Smart is 137-45 in five years with the Rams. He’s taken VCU to the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 2011. VCU is a No. 5 seed in this year’s tournament.

The Wake Forest administration has labeled Smart as an ideal fit. In addition to his success at VCU, Wake Forest believes Smart carries the same values it wishes to portray. Among those are an emphasis on academics and integrity. Smart’s style of play — which includes a fast tempo and an aggressive, pressing defense — is also appealing to the administration.

It’s unclear how much interest Smart has in the job. It’s believed that he is holding out for one of the truly elite college basketball jobs in the country, and he would have to determine if Wake Forest presents that opportunity.

Smart reportedly turned down multiple offers in excess of $2 million per year in recent years. In 2012, he signed a contact with VCU that guaranteed him $1.36 million per year with winning incentives that could amount to around $400,000 of supplemental income. Former coach Jeff Bzdelik earned a total compensation of $1.39 million in 2011.

Included in Smart’s contract is a clause that he would owe VCU $600,000 if he leaves before April 30, 2014.

Former UCLA coach Ben Howland is also one of the top candidates on Wake Forest’s radar, sources said. He has a career 398-205 record and led the Bruins to three consecutive Final Four appearances while at the helm form 2003-13.

Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel is pursuing the Wake Forest job, but he is not a serious candidate at this time, sources said. Capel was most recently a head coach at Oklahoma from 2006-11, where he compiled a 175-110 record.