BRIANTE WEBER EYES A NEW BEGINNING

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Briante Weber, VCU's all-time leader in steals and a three-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, continues to rehab a right knee injury.

Briante Weber, VCU’s all-time leader in steals and a three-time A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, continues to rehab a right knee injury.

Sometimes we don’t know how good we have it. Briante Weber flew around the basketball court in a VCU uniform for nearly four years, displaying a unique combination of speed, guile, explosiveness and enthusiasm I doubt we’ll ever see again. As much as we cheered his greatness, it was difficult to embrace it to the degree it deserved. That all changed on Jan. 31, when Weber tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus late in a game against Richmond. Weber’s brilliant career was over in a blink. He was 12 steals shy of breaking the NCAA career mark.

VCU overcame its post-Weber malaise to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship. The sight of a jubilant Weber – who continued to dress in uniform – ditching his crutches to hop to center court to celebrate reduced even some of the most iron-jawed VCU fans to misty-eyed messes.

In the months since, Weber has looked to resume his basketball career. Once an intriguing NBA prospect, Weber is fully immersed in the rehabilitation process. Weber is now more than five months removed from surgery and has begun playing in pickup games.

We sat down with Weber for an extended interview for the first time since his injury to find out his thoughts on his injury and the road back to playing Superman-like “Bri-fense”.

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Weber says a number of NBA teams have been keeping tabs on him (which I can independently confirm). He has signed with an agent and says he’ll be spending much of the coming weeks working out in California. Weber hopes to earn a tryout or invitation to an NBA training camp and is confident he’ll at least play in the NBA D-League this season.

 

SENIOR SITDOWN (THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT, BRI’S GOTTA WEAR SHADES)

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with graduating VCU seniors Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Jarred Guest to shoot a sort of all-encompassing video that looks back on their careers, as well as to the future. You’re going to have to commit roughly the same amount of time you would into watching a “Big Bang Theory”, but it’s worth it. In the past, you’ve only gotten snippets of what these guys were like, but here, you get a feel for them as people as never before. Let Briante Weber entertain you one more time.

FIXED IN A SNAP; RAMS FULFILL PROMISE TO FALLEN STAR

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VCU senior Briante Weber celebrates after the Rams topped Dayton 71-65 for the Atlantic 10 Championship.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Amid the chaotic celebration, Briante Weber hobbled over to the ladder. With the help of his teammates, he ascended toward the rim for the first time in weeks, and snipped the last remaining loop of the net. With the snap of the scissors, he freed the net from the metal rim and officially cut VCU loose of its late-season quagmire.

Weber’s symbolic act punctuated a dizzying VCU sprint to its first Atlantic 10 Championship. The Rams, preseason favorites relegated to the No. 5 seed after losing six of their final 11 regular season games, shocked the league with four wins in four days to claim the title. The final victory came Sunday, as the Rams held off Dayton 71-65 in a thrilling A-10 Championship Game at Barclays Center.

At the final buzzer, Weber, his right knee immobilized following season-ending knee surgery, hopped to midcourt to celebrate before breaking down in tears as he was mobbed by teammates.

It capped a week that redefined VCU’s season. Last week, the Rams were a team struggling to find an identity in the long shadow cast by Weber’s Jan. 31 torn ACL. For four years he had been the engine of VCU’s high-energy brand of basketball and the emotional backbone of the program. But as abruptly as Weber’s career was cut tragically short, VCU found its championship form.

“Words really can’t explain how proud I am of these guys,” said Weber, the first player to win three A-10 Defensive Player of the Year awards. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us, when I went out with an injury, and then us winning, losing, everybody hopping off the bandwagon and so forth.

“But just know behind closed doors we had our talks and all our emotional stuff; when we step in between those lines, from March to the last bit of February, we kind of found ourselves again and that’s what we need to keep building on that right now.”

Weber’s loss was devastating to VCU, which was ranked 14th at the time. But Sunday’s victory – one that seemed improbable as recently as Wednesday – allowed the Rams fulfill a promise they made to their fallen point guard.

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A-10 CHAMPIONSHIP VIDEO ROUND-UP

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THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

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Sophomore Doug Brooks provided nine points and solid defense in VCU's 72-60 win at George Mason.

Sophomore Doug Brooks (having his face reconfigured above) provided nine points and solid defense in VCU’s 72-60 win at George Mason.

Last night at George Mason, VCU’s cup runneth over…with adversity.

Given the season-ending injury suffered by senior point guard Briante Weber days earlier, the Rams were already faced with an emotional road game Wednesday night. How would VCU regroup mentally? Would the impact of Weber’s injury linger? How would the Rams replace his contributions on the court?

If you said to yourself, ‘Wow, VCU sure does have a lot to deal with tonight,’ you’d be like the rest of us. Except Fate. Fate laughed and gave the Rams another scoop.

Treveon Graham re-aggravated his right ankle injury and played just 12 minutes last night. When he exited the game for good, VCU trailed 26-19. If you responded at that moment with a litany of colorful four-letter words, not even your grandma would admonish you.

Instead of packing it in, VCU, led by its stable of underclassmen, gritted out a 72-60 win at the Patriot Center. That means that VCU was plus-19 last night against George Mason without Weber and Graham. Look, the Patriots may be struggling, but winning on the road without two of your three best players is pretty darn impressive, regardless of opponent.

Mo Alie-Cox didn’t fill up the box score, but he did make a couple of spectacular plays down the stretch and also did a splendid job of limiting Shevon Thompson’s post touches. Oh, and there was this:

Dougie Brooks’ game has matured by leaps and bounds over last year. Melvin Johnson (17 points) and JeQuan Lewis (13 points, 4 assists) led the way with heady playmaking.

It certainly won’t get any easier for VCU. The Rams head to the hinterlands of New York State to play at St. Bonaventure team that just won at Davidson, especially if Graham cannot go. But if Wednesday’s game was any indication, the Rams are going to battle every night, regardless of who is on the floor.

 

BRIANTE WEBER AND THE MORNING AFTER

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Do you know how much VCU fans love Briante Weber? I thought I did, but I was not prepared for the all-out blitz of emotion pouring from the souls of the VCU faithful. On Saturday night, I wrote a column on my couch in a blur with a pit in my stomach and a stiff drink on the coffee table. Within 10 hours it had become the most read post in this six-year history of this blog.

Today, Shaka Smart addressed the media for the first time since Weber’s injury. While George Mason awaits on Wednesday, Weber’s status dominated his weekly presser.

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Meanwhile, it’s time to start picking up the pieces. For the fans, that means it’s time to celebrate an incredible career. Weber averaged 6.8 points per game as a Ram, and yet, he’s one of the most beloved players in school history. And here’s why:

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ABOUT BRIANTE…

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RICHMOND, Va. – I do not envy Shaka Smart tonight. No way. No how.

I can’t fathom how it feels to tell a kid like Briante Weber that his VCU career is over. Do you want that job? I don’t. There isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to deliver news like that. Not to any 22-year-old kid. Especially not to Briante Weber.

On Saturday night, VCU announced that Weber, the Rams’ starting point guard, the school’s all-time leader steals, the team’s emotional fulcrum and the personification of Smart’s “Havoc” tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee in a loss to Richmond. His VCU career is over. He is 12 steals shy of the NCAA record. Life can be so unfair sometimes.

I’ve never pretended this blog was objective, and I’m definitely not going to start tonight. Learning the extent of Weber’s injury earlier was an absolute gut-punch. I have, never in my 12-year career in college athletics, ever felt so deeply for a student-athlete as I do at this moment.

I’ve been fortunate to have a courtside seat, both literally and figuratively, to Weber’s career. I’ve never covered anybody like him.

From his singular brilliance as a defender to his hilariously playful quirks to his unfettered exuberance, he is one-of-a-kind. Every gameday looked like Christmas morning to this guy. He played with his heart on his shooting sleeve. Briante Weber played with an enthusiasm you simply cannot fake.

I’ve never seen a player approach the game of basketball with the same passion as Weber. I’ve watched him check into basketball games the last four years. Let me tell you straight: nobody was as excited to check into a basketball game as Briante Weber. Every time. Every minute on the bench was one minute too long.

On the floor, he basked in the waves of adoration from the crowd, let it wash over him, and like a conductor, often signaled for more, pushed it toward crescendo.

This job lets me get close enough to these players that I get just a hint of their dreams and a whiff of what it feels like to chase it. It’s intoxicating and beautiful. Watching Weber do it was somehow better than that.

As for what this means for the Rams moving forward, that’s a column for another day. I just don’t have it in me tonight, man. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter much right now.

But don’t make this column a eulogy for Briante Weber’s career. I refuse. Won’t allow it. I’ve watched him play like a jet-fueled video game cheat code for four years and do it with a level of energy I can only describe as volcanic. I refuse to write off a guy like that. I am squarely on the Weber bandwagon from here to wherever he wants to drive it.

My heart goes out to Weber tonight and to his teammates. Those guys are like family to each other. Each man a brother. They’re all hurting tonight.

Tonight was a crushing blow for Weber, for VCU, for all of us who have invested emotionally in these four years. But if there’s one thing that Weber’s career has taught me it’s that there’s an ebb and flow to waves of emotion, and while this is most certainly the valley, there’s a peak ahead.

I’ve enjoyed covering Briante Weber more than any other student-athlete in my career in college athletics. I’m looking forward to covering his comeback even more.

WEBER’S STATUS VCU’S MAIN CONCERN FOLLOWING RICHMOND LOSS

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Senior Briante Weber leads the nation in steals.

VCU Senior Briante Weber leads the nation in steals.

RICHMOND, Va. – Richmond snapped VCU’s 12-game winning streak Saturday, but the Rams’ greater concern moving forward will be the status of senior point guard Briante Weber, who left the game with a non-contact injury to his right knee.

In his press conference following the 64-55 loss, VCU Coach Shaka Smart said he did not know the severity of the injury, and that an MRI was imminent.

“We’re hopeful it’s something he can come back from, but I don’t want to say more than that because I don’t know.”

With 3:18 remaining, Weber drove and made a jump stop inside the free throw line, then crumbled to the floor in obvious pain. He was escorted off the floor by the VCU athletic training staff. Weber returned to the VCU bench on crutches a short time later.

Richmond players and coaches shook Weber’s hand afterwards and offered words of encouragement.

“I just said [to him] that guys overcome a lot of things, and people wouldn’t have predicted he’d become the great player that he is and NBA prospect that he is, so what’s bad for a regular person might not be as bad for him, and I wished him luck in getting better,” said Richmond Coach Chris Mooney.

Losing Weber for any period of time would be significant for VCU. Weber has often been the Rams’ catalyst on both sides of the floor. He is currently leading the nation in steal percentage for the fourth straight year, and his play sets the tone for the Rams’ “Havoc” defense.

Weber scored 11 points and grabbed six steals prior to Saturday’s injury. He has 374 career steals, 11 shy of the NCAA career record. Weber is averaging 8.0 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 steals per game this season.

Although Weber has been relatively injury-free during his career, the Rams did manage an 85-69 win over Tennessee on Nov. 14 in the season-opener while Weber served a suspension. Sophomore JeQuan Lewis and freshman Johnny Williams will be asked to pick up the bulk of the slack at the point for the Rams.

“We’ll wait and see,” Smart said. “He’s an integral part of what we do. We’re hopeful he’ll be back soon, but if he’s out, we’re going to keep playing. You can’t cancel the season. We’re going to keep playing. That’s why you have a full roster of guys. In terms of style of play, we’re not going to change a whole lot [if Weber’s out], but guys are just going to have to step up and play.”

VCU, which entered the game ranked 14th nationally in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, is 17-4 overall and remains in first place in the Atlantic 10 at 7-1 despite the loss.

The Rams will travel to George Mason on Wednesday before heading to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 7.

RAMS SHOWCASE MATURING DEFENSE IN WIN OVER DAVIDSON

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VCU opponents are shooting just .370 in the last six games. The Rams limited Davidson to a season-low 65 points Wednesday.

VCU opponents are shooting just .370 in the last six games. The Rams limited Davidson to a season-low 65 points Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s been happening somewhat quietly for the last couple of weeks, but on Wednesday, you could no longer deny VCU’s defensive maturation.

Faced with a Davidson offense that ranked sixth nationally in adjusted efficiency, VCU (12-3, 2-0 A-10) flexed its defensive muscle to earn a hard-fought, 71-65 win over Davidson at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Despite its place on the schedule – the second game on each team’s Atlantic 10 slate – it was a contest that ached of postseason intensity and hinted at a possible juicy battle deep in the league’s tournament field in March.

On paper, the game looked like it would be a track meet between a pair of tempo-friendly systems. Davidson (10-3, 1-1 A-10) entered the game averaging nearly 86 points per game, while VCU is known for its free-wheeling open-court play. Instead, short, frenetic bursts of frenetic offense often gave way to half court, meat-grinder basketball.

VCU’s vaunted Havoc defense, a bit of a puzzle in the early parts of the Rams’ non-conference schedule, put the brakes on Davidson’s high-octane attack. VCU held the Wildcats to a season-low 65 points and 37 percent (22-of-59) shooting. The Wildcats began the second half 2-of-16 from the field as the Rams opened a 13-point lead. Davidson shot just 39 percent from inside the 3-point arc and turned the ball over 15 times, its second-highest total of the season.

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VCU MEDIA MINUTES (JAN. 5)

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With Davidson on deck and VCU riding six-game winning streak, Shaka Smart and players sat down with the local scribes and beautiful people of your television networks to chat. Also, VCU Women’s Coach Beth O’Boyle dropped by to update us on the 9-5 Rams.

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BRIANTE WEBER, TREVEON GRAHAM, MO ALIE-COX

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BETH O’BOYLE

 

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