Three minutes into the game, senior guard Briante Weber had just retrieved his first steal of the 2014-15 campaign from University of Toledo senior forward J.D. Weatherspoon, resulting in an assist to junior guard Melvin Johnson. Johnson converted on a layup to put the Rams up 5-3 early in the contest and VCU fans rejoiced. Their first-team Atlantic 10 guard was back on the court, in front of an adoring Siegel Center crowd, playing the game he loved with his basketball family cheering along and his 30-something family members in attendance and echoing the same sentiments. For Weber, the long journey to get to that moment was complete.
It would be Weber’s first game back after sitting out a season opening win against University of Tennessee, 85-69, on Nov. 14. Weber was serving a one-game suspension for violating the school’s student conduct policy in regards to a misdemeanor petit larceny charge that was later dismissed by the Richmond Manchester General District Court in favor of restitution and 50 hours of community service. During his suspension, Weber cheered vehemently for his team, proving that even on the bench, he’s all about the team. Four days later, his time would come.
Hours before tip-off, Weber said he was excited about the opportunity to play, albeit a little anxious. Weber said that feeling in the pit of his stomach just made him more ready to play the game.
“When the time was winding down, I kind of got this gut feeling like, ‘I’m going to play as hard as I can and not worry about anything I do’,” Weber said.
Then his moment came.
The usual player introductions seemed a bit more significant for this home-opening stage. When Weber’s name was called, the Siegel Center crowd roared with approval and his teammates gathered to officially welcome him back. It’s a moment Weber called “uplifting.”
“All those people behind me regardless of anything, was probably the most uplifting thing that could have happened to me,” Weber said. “It also helped me play better just knowing they were behind me.”
Against a formidable opponent, the Toledo Rockets, Weber knew it was an important game. No game is as important as the one that is being played, Weber said, and in that moment he was ready to lead the team.
The end result would arguably be Weber’s best all-around game in his collegiate career. Weber recorded 18 points, nine steals, eight rebounds and seven assists in the 87-78 win for the Rams.
“These statistics are impressive,” head coach Shaka Smart said postgame. “But he had a number, 62, on our effort chart, which is by far the best I’ve ever seen, and we’ve had this effort chart since I got here.”
Smart proclaimed Weber a winner, adding that getting a score of 62 in a 40 minute game is phenomenal. Weber more than doubled what Smart said is ‘a really good score of 30 points. Weber played 34 minutes total.
“It’s kind of hard to be in the negative with the efforts chart,” Weber said. “You only get negative points for a middle drive, a missed block out and a turnover. Everything you do is a positive, like an offensive or defensive rebound, assists, steals, deflection, transition score, a charge, a back tip, a show-and-go, you can get points for all of that.”
A close game throughout, the Rams trailed the Rockets by three (45-42) entering the break. Like many time before during Smarts regime, his team would make the necessary adjustments that would aid in Weber having more control of the game.
“He affected the game in a lot of different ways and I thought he made his teammates better,” Smart said. “Thought Brie gave us a level of poise out there and helped us respond in the second half.”
After the game, Smart felt Weber would overcompensate for the missed opener by being overly aggressive in trying to get steals. Weber disagreed.
“It was some of missing that game, but I know the steals are going to come.”
Weber’s 18 points came after shooting three for four from behind the three-point line. Already known for his defensive abilities, head coach Shaka Smart and his coaching staff worked with Weber to expand his offensive game in the offseason. With the help of assistant coach David Cason, a former D1 point guard for the Illinois State University Redbirds, along with shooting repetition, Weber said he gained more confidence shooting the ball as a senior than in his previous three seasons at VCU.
“I can’t leave anything on the table so I might as well go out and play as hard as I can,” Weber said. “I put in the work in the offseason, so why not display it?”
Offensive game aside, Weber prides himself on being a defensive player. It’s what the college basketball world registers him as. Weber’s fine with the label. As the reigning two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, and seemingly staying atop the NCAA steals leader list annually, he is committed to doing what’s best for the team as opposed to scoring a lot of points. At the point guard position, Weber said he understands it’s his responsibility to create shots for his teammates on the floor.
“I’m a point guard first,” Weber said. “I’ve been a scorer, but I have better scorers around me and I’d rather see them happy, because if they’re happy, then I’m doing my job.”
Weber’s six assists in the first half led to 14 points scored for the Rams. Senior forward Treveon Graham and Johnson scored seven and five of their 22 points total in the first half off of Weber assists. Sophomore guard Jordan Burgess added two points off a breakaway dunk from a Weber assists, finishing the game with 11 points overall. Weber’s final assist of the game came with 2:31 left to play in the contest. Weber would find Johnson for three to put the Rams up six, 78-72. Thirty-eight seconds later, his eighth steal of the game turned into an eight point lead, 80-72, as an easy layup in transition with 1:53 to go in regulation effectively put the game out of reach for the Rockets, en route to the Rams’ second win of the season.
After the game, Toledo’s head coach Tod Kowalczyk labeled Weber a ‘gamechanger’ adding ‘If he’s not the best player in the country, you find me who is.’
Briante Weber’s mother, LaSandra Weber Wingate, was in attendance as she often is for her son’s home games. Weber said he couldn’t recall the last time his mother missed a game. However, for this game, her attendance was all the more special.
“It’s always a blessing to see my family.” Weber said. “That’s how I know I can play my best because they’re up there rooting for me.”
After the game, Weber’s mother was happy with how her son played acknowledging that he made a mistake and has since moved on from it. Everyone has, she added.
“I am thrilled.” LaSandra Weber Wingate said after the game. “He played absolutely amazing. I know he’s glad to be back and we’re glad he’s back. I expected nothing less.”
Perhaps the one thing that every fan of VCU basketball does expect is for Weber to become the NCAA all-time steals leader breaking a decade’s long record of 385. His nine steals in the season opener left him just 81 steals shy of breaking the record. Although Weber anticipates breaking the record, adding that ‘it’s coming soon’ with a grin on his face, 400 is not far from his mind.
“If it’s there, it’s a go,” Weber said about shattering the all-time steals record.
Having now officially started his senior campaign as a Ram, Weber said he feels as a whole the team still needs to improve on transition defense. He adds the team is giving up too many points and that’s not the Rams’ identity.
“We defend at a high level and we stop people,” Smart said. “That’s what makes us the team that we are.”
As for himself, the humble 6-foot-2 Chesapeake, Virginia native from Great Bridge High School will look to continue improving his offensive game and leadership skills in his final season as a student-athlete.
“Expect a better leader,” Weber said as envisioning his potential impact to the team. “A better teammate, somebody that’s not playing for just himself, somebody who’s playing for 13 other people that needs me to do what I do and guide them throughout the entire season.”