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Spider Jacob Gilyard reached doorstep of NCAA career steals record. How did he get there?
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Spider Jacob Gilyard reached doorstep of NCAA career steals record. How did he get there?

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Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard took the ball away from Isaiah Blackmon of Saint Francis for one of his 384 career steals during a 2019 game at the Robins Center.

There soon will be a new NCAA Division I career steals leader, Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard.

Heading into Wednesday’s game at Wofford, Gilyard is two steals from passing the current leader, former Providence guard John Linehan, who had 385 in a career that ended in 2002. Gilyard, a 5-foot-9 resident of Kansas City, Mo., had six steals in a Saturday overtime loss to Mississippi State to reach 384 and leads Division I this season with 3.7 steals per game.

“It’s an amazing statistical achievement,” said Chris Mooney, who’s in his 17th year as UR’s coach. “Just to be in the top 50 of [a cumulative stat] would be amazing, let alone to be in second place … His sense for the game is just elite. Certainly so incredibly valuable to us.”

Gilyard is in his fifth season as a starter, having taken advantage of the NCAA policy which gave all winter-sports athletes from last year an extra season of eligibility. He led Division I in steals each of the past two seasons.

Through Gilyard’s career, Richmond hasn’t frequently pressed, which makes his accomplishment more impressive. Gilyard has never fouled out of a game, an indication that he carefully surveys when to try for steals, and he can quickly attack ball-handlers without making contact. Against Mississippi State, Gilyard had his 6 steals while committing one foul in 42 minutes.

“When you look at him at first, obviously the size looks like it would be a disadvantage,” UR’s Grant Golden said. “But I don’t think it is. I think because he’s so fast, that’s what he uses against people.”

Gilyard’s steals come several different ways, but here are three of his most common paths:

Blind-siders. Big men, beware. Hold the ball low and Gilyard sees that. When the time is right, he sweeps in and takes a poke. Gilyard said he does not study video of noted stealers of the ball, but he does watch video of opponents running offense. In so doing, he picks up players’ tendencies.

Rhythm-breakers. Most passes are not contested. As defenders allow passes, those delivering them get into a flow that’s repeated during multiple possessions. Gilyard strikes when he senses passes are being made almost reflexively because the passing lane has previously been open.

“If it looks like you’re not really guarding, odds are they’re going to throw it,” he said.

Speed-abductions. On longer passes, Gilyard sometimes is simply quicker than passers anticipate, and he makes interceptions. “He can sort of see the play ahead of time. People don’t think he can get there in time, but he does,” UR forward Nathan Cayo said.

Greg Beckwith, a Spider in the 1980s, was one of Richmond’s best defensive guards. For years he has been the analyst on UR TV and radio broadcasts. “Very instinctive. He plays ahead of the game,” Beckwith said of Gilyard. “Mentally, he’s one step, or even two steps, ahead of other players out there.”

The Spiders on Nov. 20 played at Drake, where Gilyard had four steals. After one, there was cackling on the Richmond radio broadcast, Beckwith’s laughing reaction to the way Gilyard went about his craft.

“Set him up,” Beckwith said of Gilyard and the Drake big man who was victimized. “Set. Him. Up.”

Mooney recalled the day he watched Gilyard play a game for his high school in Kansas City: 11 steals.

“He obviously has great quickness, but I think even more importantly, he has tremendous instincts,” Mooney said. “He can really read where guys are throwing the ball.”

Gilyard said he would rather make a steal than a basket or an assist. Steals can carry more impact, often leading to easy baskets and momentum.

“When I get a steal, usually it turns into something positive on the other end,” Gilyard said.

People are uncomfortable around thieves, particularly on a basketball court. Gilyard believes this works to his advantage.

“I feel like teams have started to understand that I try to steal the ball a lot, so I think that makes them even a little more nervous,” he said.

joconnor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6233

Twitter: @RTDjohnoconnor

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