RICHMOND, Va. (AP) VCU guard Briante Weber is a thief with a smile on his face.
The junior with the white headband, quick hands and the big grin reflecting the enjoyment he gets from playing leads the nation in steals. He is averaging 3.8 a game and is on pace to break the Rams’ career steals record.
He needs three steals to set the record Saturday when VCU hosts city and Atlantic 10 Conference rival Richmond.
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”It’s going to happen. There’s no way around it. It’s going to happen,” Weber said, laughing, after making four steals in the Rams’ 76-60 victory against Fordham on Wednesday night. ”Maybe Saturday. Stay tuned.”
After he eclipses Rolando Lamb’s 29-year-old school record of 257 steals, the national Division I record could be next. John Linehan of Providence holds that mark with 385 from 1997-2002, and with at least 12 games remaining this season and his senior year ahead of him, Weber could become the first player with 400 career steals.
Along the way, he’s become the face of what the Rams call their ”havoc” defense.
”He’s more energetic than anyone I’ve ever been around. That is a great trait to have in an athlete,” Rams coach Shaka Smart said. ”… It’s a sport where you want to be the more energetic team. Having him on your team is a great start.”
Weber’s defense has provided iconic ”havoc” moments in each of the last two seasons.
Last year during a 32-point rout of 20th-ranked Butler Weber stole the ball near midcourt and drove in alone for a thunderous dunk that brought an already charged home crowd to near pandemonium.
This year his signature moment came during the final minute of the Rams’ 71-57 victory against George Mason.
With no chance to win, the Patriots nonetheless rolled the ball inbounds, trying to keep the clock from starting. Weber darted in from near midcourt, stole the ball, called timeout and bounced to his feet pumping his fist.
”Coach Smart said not to let them roll the ball,” he said later.
”He loves that,” Smart said, speaking of the relentlessness of VCU’s defensive style. ”When he’s in the right place mentally, really it’s a perfect marriage, his game and our style of play. They both fit together really, really well. Well, perfect defensively.”
For Weber, it starts with the smile, and everything flows from there.
”That’s me,” he said. ”If I’m not smiling, then something’s wrong.”
And since he’s usually smiling, it’s usually not a good look for VCU opponents.
”He’s the catalyst,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. ”The hardest thing with the generation we’re coaching is finding great leaders. I’ve talked to people at the military academies and they struggle with it as well, and they’re the cream of the crop, so when you have a young man like that on the floor that can lead a team and make great decisions and do it all at 90 miles an hour, he’s a special player.”
The leadership component is one that has only recently emerged.
For the last two seasons, Weber played behind Darius Theus at point guard. Smart said Weber ”was more like a change-of-pace guy,” the flashy ball hawk compared to Theus’ steadying, calming presence.
Weber now pays attention to when his teammates need a boost, or to be protected from themselves.
Juvonte Reddic, who can get thrown off his game by mistakes, entered the Fordham game shooting 50 percent from the free throw line. When he made his first attempt of the contest, the crowd erupted, almost a sarcastic cheer.
Weber went up to Reddic before his second shot to ease the tension and made Reddic burst into laughter.
”I said, `God is with you,”’ Weber said, laughing again.
”With Juvonte, you can’t let him think about anything so I usually tell him a joke or something,” Weber said. ”I just try to make a funny out of something just to see him smile or something because when Juvonte’s smiling, Juvonte’s good.”
That kind of leadership is something the Rams struggled with earlier in the year.
”Bri’s done a good job of going out of his way to try to lift his teammates up,” Smart said. ”The best I’ve ever seen at that was Darius Theus. `D’ just did it naturally, and he thrived at it. … Briante has really made progress moving into that role.”