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Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Gilyard reflects on his record-breaking career

<p><em>UR fifth-year guard Jacob Gilyard. Photo by Thomas Takele.</em></p>

UR fifth-year guard Jacob Gilyard. Photo by Thomas Takele.

The stadium is flooded with the background noise of fans. The low rumble of feet slamming against the bleachers, the tangible excitement behind every shot, and sharp squeaks echo on the court as players hustle from defense to offense and back again. In the chaos of the crowd Rodney Gilyard and his family are intensely watching the Richmond Spiders take on the Northern Iowa Panthers. The game is unrelenting and the score is a neck and neck battle between two titans. Richmond leads by one point at the half and the Spiders disappear into the locker rooms. 

When they emerge, Rodney can see his son  Jacob take the court with fierce determination. When the whistle blows, Jacob, a fifth-year guard, vanishes. He becomes a blur on the court, maneuvering between teammates and finding openings in his opponents' defense. The number zero can barely be spotted, but once identified, it's already too late. The ball is in the air and the basket has been sunk. But Jacob has another goal in mind. By the 38th minute, Gilyard realizes he has yet to get a steal against his opponent, the final threshold to him breaking the NCAA Division I all-time steals record. As the clock winds down, Jacob bides his time and waits for the perfect opening. The pass is made, Gilyard emerges, and in the blink of an eye, Gilyard has broken a standing 20-year record and now leads the NCAA for all-time career steals. 

Richmond won the game by eight points, but Gilyard’s achievement was at the forefront of the team’s mind. 

“We were all really happy for him,” teammate and senior forward Matt Grace said. “It’s hard to comprehend that he really has the most steals ever. I don’t know if it’s sunk in for him, it hasn’t even sunk in for me but it is pretty cool and we’re all really happy for him.” 

News of Gilyard’s record took many by surprise, but Gilyard knew he was close to breaking the longstanding record even before the season started. Social media and his fans often kept him informed on his progress toward breaking the record, usually in the form of a tweet or a steal counter, Gilyard said.

“We were all super pumped for him,” teammate and sixth-year guard Nick Sherod said. “That’s such an incredible thing to be able to do.”

But Gilyard was further honored with a ceremony preceding the Spiders' next home game against Toledo, a game which Gilyard helped win with yet another crucial steal. A banner was hung in the E. Claiborne Robins Stadium celebrating his incredible accomplishment before the game and paid tribute to his years playing for UR.

“When I finally got it, it was just sort of like a weight taken off my shoulder,” Gilyard said. “That took a little pressure off the game but at the same time it was a super, super surreal feeling and then to come back here and have the little ceremony before the game was probably one of the best moments of my life for sure.”

The prior all-time Division I steals record was set by Providence player John Linehan in 2002 with 385 steals. Gilyard, who still has the remainder of the season, currently sits at 414 steals with 15 games to go before conference play. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Gilyard had thought about trying to break the record and the difficulty of doing so, especially as a junior at the time. However, once COVID-19 put an end to the 2020 season, Gilyard thought breaking the record would be impossible. Yet, after choosing to return to UR following the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to athletes disrupted by the pandemic, Gilyard began to see the record as something breakable. 

The record was also something Gilyard had promised his father he would surpass him in. Rodney Gilyard still holds records at Ottowa University for career assists and steals, both of which earned him an induction into the university’s hall of fame. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Jacob would often joke with his father about one day having more assists or steals than him; they were both incredibly overjoyed when it finally happened.

“I think going in every kid wants to be better than their dad,” Gilyard said.  “For me, it was something that I always joked with him about and I said I would eventually have more assists and steals than him just joking with him when I was younger. 

"To see it come true was super cool, but for me to get the NCAA steals record and then for him to be at the game and the ceremony was super cool. I don’t really know how to describe it. I feel like every kid wants to make their parents proud and to see him there in the stands and to get to hug him after the game and talk to him was a feeling I’ll never forget for sure.”

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With Gilyard now the current record holder and his career steals only increasing as the season progresses, he is focusing on the remainder of his season and enjoying his last bit of time at UR, he said. Gilyard is also hopeful that his record remains, though he looks forward to having it one day be broken by another rising basketball star. 

Contact news writer Quinn Humphrey at quinn.humphrey@richmond.edu

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