Numbers. It’s always the damned numbers. We inhale them, twist them, use them to frame what makes sense in college basketball. In the end, and on a day like today, the numbers don’t matter.
Briante Weber will never again play basketball for VCU, and I don’t want to talk about numbers or records. I want to talk about Briante Weber. The grotesque irony is that numbers and records have always been intertwined with Weber, especially in the manner people frame his career. The beauty of this young man and his imprint on the VCU program has surrounded those damned numbers. I can’t stand the numbers right now. They cheapen what Weber means to VCU basketball.
You see, Weber is everything we want in our college basketball players. He plays hard, every minute. He cares. He loves the game and developed, with the help of an attentive staff, from a spindly freshman with little direction to a full-fledged weapon. Records matter because he is a kid. But he plays with a joy that is undeniable and attractive on the court, and you can hear it in every interview off the court. It’s a joy Weber chose to share with all of us, and we should be grateful for that.
His innocent enthusiasm is infectious. That’s another irony. When he made big plays late in games–and when he made mistakes–there was an innocence and freedom to his game. It was as if the situation didn’t matter. He was just playing basketball and having fun doing it. Coaches lose hair over that, but fans love it, and both groups love Briante Weber.
It was always about him but it was also always about us. Weber allowed himself–his play and his personality–from day one to bleed into the Siegel Center stands. He embraced it. Weber wanted to share every bit of his excitement with his teammates and with you. The air punch, scowl, hand-claps, arm waves, megawatt smiles–and the steals–were all part of the caring and passion, and love, between Briante Weber, VCU basketball, and VCU fans.
The love began even before day one. As a high school senior, after he signed with Shaka Smart and before he stepped foot on campus as a freshman basketball player, Weber was silly enough, and innocent enough and passionate enough, to wear a VCU t-shirt and sit right in the middle of the ODU student section during a VCU/ODU game at the Ted Constant Center. That was the first time Weber put a smile on our faces.
As we became aware, that was just Bri being Bri. Weber carries a playfulness and passion that when combined with his uncommon energy produces the wattage.
It hasn’t always been easy, but great things are never easy. Weber arrived with, at best, minimal offensive skill and little discipline. He worked and molded into an elite defender and effective point guard for a nationally-competitive basketball team. He developed a midrange jumper and the ability to read the floor. On defense, he managed his freelancing style to become a better and more disciplined on-ball defender.
You never saw the hard work, only the smile. We were treated to the results.
People say that Briante Weber defines havoc, and that’s true. It underscores another irony.
We often talk about what the VCU program does for the kids in it. And that’s absolutely true and very important. But think about what Briante Weber did for this program. Sports Illustrated needed a central figure for an article about havoc, and Weber’s smiling face and personality and style of play fit perfectly. Weber was not just the ideal kind of player for havoc, but he was also its perfect external ambassador–fun, engaging, lovable, and an absolute terror on the basketball court.
He is a product of the process, but the process benefits from his innate talents. Weber defines the system, but the system defines Weber. It’s been a perfect union.
You can bet that when coaches–not just VCU coaches but all coaches–go on the road recruiting and sit in gym after gym after gym hour after hour after hour, they are hoping they see a Briante Weber. They are still looking.
Weber, who came to VCU in the wake of the Final Four run, may be VCUs last underrated recruit. Perhaps you can say his energy and style awakened both us, and the national media, to what is going on here but more importantly to what is possible. I don’t know. I just know who Briante Weber is and how he plays certainly matches up to the ascension of this program. I’m also not qualified to say definitively whether or not Briante Weber is the heart of VCU and havoc.
However it sure feels like he is the soul.
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die.
And where you invest your love, you invest your life.
–from “Awake My Soul” by Mumford & Sons