COLLEGE PARK -- It could come tonight at Cole Field House against Duke, or Saturday against Virginia. It probably will come in the wink of an eye and the wave of a hand. And it likely will come in the frenetic crush of Maryland's pressing defense.
When Johnny Rhodes finally collects the 329th steal of his larcenous college career, it will mark the crowning achievement of a four-year run to the Atlantic Coast Conference record book.
Coming into tonight's 9 o'clock tip-off against Duke, the Terps' 6-foot-4 senior guard has amassed 325 steals, three shy of the ACC career record held by Chris Corchiani of North Carolina State.
He has 91 steals for the season, just seven behind the ACC standard of 97 held jointly by Baltimore's Sam Cassell (Florida State) and Dudley Bradley (North Carolina). He is third in the nation with an average of 3.8 steals per game.
When it comes to his specialty, Rhodes doesn't rely on guesswork, blinding speed or fancy footwork.
"I think Johnny has learned a lot about positioning," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "He knows the talent in the league, and he knows when he can go for the ball, when not to go for the ball. That takes time."
It usually takes Rhodes, oh, about one trip down the court before he realizes at what point he wants to make his move.
More often than not, he has set up his man for the heist.
"The first time down the floor, you say, 'That pass goes over there,' and the second time you look to steal that pass," Rhodes said. "I know the play already because we've scouted the other team so much.
"The next possession, if it's the same play, that's when I come in, Rhodesget a hand on the ball, and have a breakaway layup."
Rhodes has turned his craft into a veritable science. It didn't take long for freshman Laron Profit to gain an appreciation for that science, either.
"Johnny is a tremendously smart basketball player," said Profit, perhaps the player most likely to fill Rhodes' role as prime pickpocket next season. "He knows the game and has a lot of experience. He picks the passing lanes real well, and he knows how to catch an offensive player sleeping."
Williams said the impending record speaks both to Rhodes' ability and the Terps' attacking style of defense.
"First of all, it means he's been very durable," Williams said. "It also means we've played aggressively with him. Our pressure defense puts Johnny out on the court . . . so I think style of defense had a little to do with it."
It took Rhodes 66 games to reach 176 steals and break a school record that took Walt Williams 105 games to set. And it took Rhodes only one year, his freshman season, to break the school's single-season mark. Each succeeding year, he improved on that.
But if Rhodes' proficiency on defense has earned him a vaunted reputation, it also has tended to overshadow his overall game. With 1,648 career points, Rhodes is the ACC's leading active scorer. And he has 668 career rebounds.
"I think where Johnny has made his most improvement is not just shooting the ball, but as an offensive player," Williams said. "He knows how to get open now. He's gotten some more moves with the ball. He does a lot of things he couldn't do the first couple of years.
"He's as good a rebounder for a guard as I've coached."
Williams said Rhodes has developed into an NBA-caliber player.
"I wouldn't have said that last year, but I really feel he's become a player who's good enough to play in the NBA," Williams said. "He's durable enough to play that schedule, and his shooting has gotten better each year and now he's a threat."
All things considered, Rhodes would prefer to be remembered for the team's achievements rather than his steals records.
"That would be more of the legacy I'd want, that I was part of the team that really changed things around for Maryland," he said. "That will be better than anything else."