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In the ‘Steal’ of the Night

CULLOWEE, N.C. — Ever since Brigham Waginger set foot on the Western Carolina campus four years ago there have been a rash of burglaries.

All the evidence points toward Waginger, but there will be no arrest. In fact, his next heist will be cause for celebration.

With his next steal, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior point guard is on the verge of becoming the Western Carolina all-time career leader in steals.

Waginger had four steals last Saturday in a 91-83 upset at Louisville to give him 221 for his career. He is now tied for first place with Henry Logan who played at WCU from 1965-68.

Waginger can eclipse the old record on Tuesday when Western Carolina plays at ACC power Clemson.

“Defense is something I take great pride,” said Waginger who helped lead Ironton to a state runner-up in 2005.

“I remember something (then-Ironton) coach (Roger) Zornes wrote on the blackboard. ‘Defense is determination and positioning.’ That’s stuck with me. As a high school kid I took pride guarding the other team’s best player. Defense is something you’ve got to want to do.”

Waginger’s prowess on the basketball court isn’t limited to steals and defense. He has 296 career assists and needs just 19 more to climb into the Catamounts’ all-time top 10 list.

Despite his unselfish style of play, Waginger put the credit for his assists on his teammates.

“It just shows guys are making shots. I don’t get assists if they don’t make the shots,” said Waginger. “If you don’t have great teammates around you don’t get them. I just try to put them in the best position to make shots. As the point guard you always have to know what everyone does and get them in the right place.”

Players who score the most points usually grab the headlines and grab most of the attention. Waginger only averages 8.5 points a game, but that doesn’t matter because he averages 4.5 assists and 2.4 steals a game.

“The thing that gets me going the most is the assists, and I like help defense. If a guy gets beat I step into the lane and stop him for a second and then we’re in a scramble mode. I just like playing defense,” said Waginger.

In the midst of Waginger’s individual accomplishments is the team success. The Catamounts are 10-1 on the season including 2-0 in the Southern Conference.

The success hasn’t come as a surprise to Waginger or the other seniors on the team. The conference coaches aren’t surprised, either. They picked the Catamounts to win the league in the preseason poll.

“The seniors having been working toward the goal of winning the league. We’ve worked through a lot of adversity,” said Waginger. “But at the end of year if we don’t’ finish strong and win the conference tournament, then Louisville game won’t mean anything.

“We’re not going to sneak up on anybody. After Louisville game the target on our backs got bigger. We want to be in the field of 64 or 65 (NCAA Tournament). That’s been our goal from the start.”

Waginger said that winning 10 games is a big accomplishment, especially since it came against Louisville and coach Rick Pitino.

“Beating Louisville at Freedom Hall against Rick Pitino is something I’ll cherish later in life. Right now we’re working on Clemson,” said Waginger.

Being a senior causes Waginger to reflect sometimes on how much he has matured and how much his game has changed since arriving at WCU.

“I thought the game was two-feet deep when I got here and it’s more like 10- to 12-feet deep. It’s a whole new spectrum,” said Waginger.

When the season is over and Waginger has his degree in education, he knows his passion for basketball will continue to call.

“I’ve spoke to (WCU) coach (Larry) Hunter about coaching. The (graduate assistant) job is not funded here, but he said he’d help me any way he could. I went into education because I figured I would go in that (coaching) direction,” said Waginger.