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Friday, July 11, 2014

Weber provides defensive sparkplug for VCU

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

Briante Weber has the physical tools to someday be a superstar basketball player at Virginia Commonwealth.

For now, he’s a defensive specialist, one who has given opposing teams limitless frustration and one who will most likely pester the Shockers throughout their NCAA Tournament second-round game tonight at the Rose Garden.

Weber, a freshman, has a 45 1/2-inch vertical leap. He’s the fastest player on a Rams team that uses athleticism to apprehend adversaries. He plays with unrelenting passion.

How those tools will ultimately blend is anybody’s guess. Until he’s a finished product, Weber combines them to give VCU its most dangerous defensive player — and that’s saying something.

"Everybody can score the basketball," said Weber, a Colonial Athletic Association All-Defensive team member. "When it’s my time to score the basketball, that’s when I’ll take my time. I play my role."

The 6-foot-3, 160-pound Weber is the catalyst for VCU’s "HAVOC" defense, an acronym employed by coach Shaka Smart to describe and emphasize the Rams’ philosophy of uncompromising defense.

The Rams find the HAVOC credo so important that they use four of the first five pages in their media guide to celebrate it, and nobody fits the axiom better than Weber.

VCU leads the nation in steals with 361 and Weber, despite being a reserve who averages less than 20 minutes, has 76 to lead the Rams and the CAA. This wasn’t a case of Weber adapting to the system, either. He came to VCU already a polished defender.

"My game was pretty much up-and-down and fast-paced," Weber said. "I really adjusted well coming to VCU."

As Wichita State has found out, it’s impossible not to notice Weber when scouting VCU. He doesn’t score much — 4.9-point average — but he has been able to break down the steady guards of the CAA.

The challenge is presented both ways, though. Joe Ragland, Demetric Williams and Toure Murry are capable ball-handlers who limit mistakes and have experience against quickly encompassing pressure. WSU coach Gregg Marshall has had them on the lookout.

"He’s a pesky defender and he loves to play defense," Williams said. "(Marshall) just said to take care of the ball, don’t be casual with the ball in front of him. A lot of our players are veterans, so we know we can’t be casual at all."

Weber’s love of defense is mostly beneficial to the Rams, but his youth is exposed occasionally.

Few are as athletically gifted as Weber, and his only physical limitation is that he has none. He can sometimes speed himself up too much or lose concentration, a source of contention at times between him and Smart.

"Actually, he has to slow me down a lot just to get some discipline, basically," Weber said. "He’s usually on me a lot about being disciplined when I’m playing defense on the ball and being in a (defensive) stance on and off the ball."

Having to harness a player within a system called HAVOC could be concerning for the Rams, but Weber does much more good than harm. VCU’s preference is to score in transition, and nobody contributes more to those efforts than Weber and his break-starting steals.

What he’ll look like in three years is a mystery, but the current version of Weber has eased what could have been a difficult transition after VCU lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team.

"He’s got a bright future," Smart said. "He’s just got to learn to take what he has physically and use his mind to get better and better. And he will."

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