RICHMOND, Va. – There are so many types of Briante Weber steals that it’s hard to pick a favorite.
There are the garden-variety, poke-the-ball-away steals, and the Havoc-induced free safety interception steals. From there, they progress to, things like the blind side, who-was-that-guy steal and the cruise-missile, fast-break-thwarting steal.
“Coach, since my freshman year, he emphasized a no layup rule,” Weber says. “Me having the quickness and the long arms, I just kind of reach in there. Sometimes I’m lucky. Sometimes I get a foul. But most of the time it works out for me. I’ve got a good knack for the ball. It helps me.”
Steals from those subsets have become relatively common, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch something truly special at a VCU game.
For instance, Weber ripping the ball away from Butler’s Roosevelt Jones last year before administering a thunderous tomahawk dunk that set the tone for a blowout VCU victory. For the past year, that play has served as Weber’s seminal steal moment. But his diving theft of a George Mason roll-in pass on Jan. 9 may have been his magnum opus. It had all the markers of greatness: a disregard for personal welfare, a jolt of otherworldly adrenaline, and a pedestrian moment rendered disastrous for the opposition. It was furious art; like a Monet painted with a chainsaw.
But in order to properly classify and file away all these steals, VCU’s going to have to invest in an archivist, because Weber is accumulating them at a historic rate. Sometime very soon, Weber is going to set the Rams’ career steals mark. But he’s not so much going to set the record as he will obliterate it in much the same way he did Butler’s confidence last season.
Heading into Wednesday’s game with Fordham, Weber has 251 career steals. For 29 years, Rolando Lamb’s career record of 257 in 120 games has stood unchallenged. It took 26 years for anybody else to even crack 200 again. Darius Theus and Joey Rodriguez each managed 237 steals, but it took Theus an additional 26 games and Rodriguez 22 more than Lamb. Weber, second on that list, has compiled his eye-popping total in just 92 games.
Weber’s pace has been blistering. Last year, Weber eclipsed Lamb’s school single-season mark of 88 steals with 98, and he’s on pace for even more this year.
At his current rate of about 3.8 steals per game, Weber, who once grabbed 10 steals against Florida Gulf Coast, could easily become the first Ram to crack 100 in a season. In his best season, the 1984-85 campaign, Lamb averaged 2.8 steals per game, and in his career, he averaged 2.2. Weber is currently averaging 2.7 steals per game as a collegian. It’s not a matter of if, but when Weber breaks the record. But Weber says he hasn’t put much thought into Lamb’s generation-old mark.
“I’m not thinking about it like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a steal’. Because the way we play, I’m going to fall into steals. So I just keep playing my game, and at the end of the day, one day soon, or whatever, it’s going to happen,” he says.
All of this is a surprise to no one. Weber’s skills, lightning-quick hands, fast feet and non-stop motor, make him a perfect fit for Shaka Smart’s “Havoc”. VCU runs a debilitating full-court press that has forced the most turnovers in the country the last three years. At the center of that storm is Weber, a 6-foot-3, guard with a 45-inch vertical leap and the on-court disposition of the Tasmanian Devil.
There were times early in his career where Smart felt the need to reign in Weber’s aggressiveness. Sometimes, Weber would overextend himself while making a play for a steal, which put the back end of the VCU defense in a bind. But as he’s matured, those types of plays have become less common.
“It’s discipline,” Smart says. “When you get a steal, the natural tendency is, at times, the next time, to try and get the very same steal, to gamble, because steals are highlights. The crowd likes them. Briante’s obviously on pace to break some records with that, but the goal on defense is still to stop the other team and not necessarily to steal the ball.”
It’s a fine line, but Weber tries to find the balance between aggressive and reckless.
“In the frontcourt, before they get past half-court, is pretty much when I’m doing all my gambling,” Weber says. “In the half-court, that’s where I’ve found the past two years that I have to stay sound or I’m hurting the team because I’m giving up easy drives and stuff like that. It was a learning process.”
He says the process isn’t necessarily complete, but Weber’s no loose cannon out there. He’s getting better at picking his spots.
“[Coach] still talks to me,” the Virginia Beach native says. “But now he knows and has a trust in me that in the half-court, I’m going to sit down, and we’re just going to get a team stop as a whole.”
His first two seasons, Weber was largely a defensive specialist off the bench for about 20 minutes a game. But this year, he’s taken over as VCU’s point guard, which led many to wonder if those additional responsibilities would detract from his elite defensive abilities. The answer has been an emphatic, “No”. For the third straight year, Weber leads the nation in steal percentage, and he’s doing it while setting career-best marks for points, rebounds and minutes.
“Not me, but I’m pretty sure everybody was thinking about it, he’s going to have to slow down on defense,” he says. “No. I’ve been playing this way since I was five years old.”