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STEVE DeSHAZO: Weber shows it takes more than a thief to lead Rams

RICHMOND—Briante Weber keeps track of his steals in his head, so he knew the precise moment in Saturday’s 81–70

victory over Richmond that he had broken VCU’s career record.

“You didn’t see me counting?” the junior guard asked with a devilish grin. “I knew when it happened.”

Maintaining a count of Weber’s points—and the Rams’ wins—is getting a bit more difficult.

VCU (18–4, 6–1 in the Atlantic 10) has won its past five games and 10 of 11. It’s not a coincidence that Weber has scored in double figures in six of his last eight starts. That’s no small feat for a player who reached that mark just 10 times in his first two seasons.

“It’s a huge difference, I think,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said after Weber’s 14-point, five-steal performance. “He deserves a lot of credit.

“I don’t know if he was perceived primarily as a defensive player, but he’s becoming a good offensive player. He can score, and he has a good sense of the offense. He knows when to slow things down.”

That doesn’t happen often. Weber, a wispy 6-foot-2 Chesapeake native, is the embodiment of coach Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” approach to defense.

“Defensively, there could not be a better player for our style of play,” Smart said. “If they said, ‘You can pick anyone from around the country,’ I’d say, ‘No, I’ll take the one we’ve got.’”

A unique skill set—“quick hands, quick feet, great anticipation skills and unbelievable energy,” as Smart puts it—has made Weber the point man for VCU’s relentless press.

He leads the nation in steals at 3.86 per game, and it took him less than three seasons (and, amazingly, just 33 games started) to break the school mark of 257 it took Rolando Lamb four years to set. Barring injury, John Linehan’s NCAA Division I record of 385 at Providence 1997–2002 is in serious jeopardy.

Defense will always be Weber’s primary contribution. But a new year has brought a new Weber—one that teams have to respect on the other end of the court, as well.

No longer does he get most of his points on layups after steals. Weber, a career 24-percent 3-point shooter, made his only long-range attempt Saturday, and after forcing a tie-up that gave the Rams possession, he nailed an 18-foot jumper from the wing to help VCU thwart Richmond’s only surge of the game.

“He was probably the difference in the game,” Mooney said.

Said Weber: “My teammates talk to me every day. They tell me I can [shoot], so I just do it.”

The mere threat that Weber can make a jump shot makes things much easier for his teammates. It prevents opponents from collapsing on Juvante Reddic, the Rams’ only low-post threat, and opens lanes for Traveon Graham to drive.

“He’s really developing as a leader,” Smart said. “He was an apprentice under Darius Theus for two years. He’s not the same player as Darius; they both have their strengths. But Darius was the best we’ve ever had at leadership, and there was a void created by his graduation.

“Bri has done a really nice job of helping to fill that void. He’s the most charismatic, the most energetic guy on the team and he’s getting better and better offensively. He’s taking the shots that come to him and working on his outside shot in practice.”

Weber is averaging 9.6 points per game, nearly double his career average of 5.4 entering the season. He won’t break Eric Maynor’s school scoring record, but he’s becoming a smarter all-around threat instead of an over-caffeinated defensive specialist.

And that doesn’t bode well for future opponents.

“The last thing you want to do with a player who has that kind of energy is stifle it,” Smart said. “We want to keep him balanced. His junior year, he’s done a better job of knowing when to be Bri and when to be serious.”

 

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

 

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