This is it folks, the Kiwi is a senior. Tai Webster is finalizing his eligibility for Nebraska this upcoming season. The once promising New Zealander will have one more shot to prove to Husker Nation that he is worthy of the accolades that brought him to the states.
Tai has been an interesting case for the basketball team. He came to us as a fresh face whose impressive international playing career made him an early target for Nebraska’s attention. Tai was helping lead the New Zealand national team to impressive heights even before he stepped foot on the Husker court. His numbers for the Waikato Pistons of the National Basketball League were stellar. Averaging 18.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 4.4 apg. This, while also being the youngest player in the league at the age of 17.
He also started paying for the New Zealand national team (the Tall Blacks) and has played for them during the off season since. Almost making it to the Summer Olympics in Rio. They lost to Canada 78-72 and killing their hope for a spot in the games. Tai played well, very well for his native country in the tournament.
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Tai has been a huge contributor to his international brothers. In the games he started in this summer for the Olympic qualifying tournament he averaged 16.3 ppg, lead the team with 9.7 rpg, and 3.0 apg. This is huge, especially when you compare these statistics to what he’s done at Nebraska. During last season for the Huskers he averaged 10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 1.9 apg. A little bit of a drop off between the two teams.
He has struggled at times to get his game under control at Nebraska. The difference between the two styles of play seems to get to him on the court at times. He tends to get frustrated quickly and it can affect his game and makes it tough for him to shake out of.
However, there was good progress this last year. When he came on board at Nebraska he started 30 out of the 32 games his freshman year but you would not have necessarily noticed it from the stat’s sheet. Before the uptick in his playing his junior year he was only averaging 3.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, and 1.6 apg for his first two seasons.
Now, why is there such a huge difference in his playing from the New Zealand team to the Nebraska team? While there are many variables that can come into play when a player leaves his native land to play in another, there are also some basic fundamentals that change with the game.
I am going to generalize here to make this as simple as I can as there are many interpretations to why many of these athletes struggle with the transition.
For one, international game usually has a little wider approach. There is a lot more ball movement and the defenses tend to hand check more than they do in the U.S. Leading to a lot more fundamentals and finesse within in the game. Teams in the U.S. tend to be more physical and basket driven. This gives the players more of isolation feel when they play.
If you have the athleticism then you will have more teams shooting the paint more and thus making the defenses more aggressive. The types of athletes playing in international play are also usually less athletically gifted than their U.S. counterparts so there is more of an emphasis on overall team play than individual players. I’m not saying that other countries produce inferior athletes, just comparing the ones who play basketball to their counterparts in the U.S.
There, that work?
Now, back to the player at hand, Tai Webster.
Like I stated above, Tai has had had some growing to do at Nebraska between the two types of play. His first two years were work in progress and finally had a decent jump in his game this last season proving that he can improve his game. With Shields and White gone he will need to step up and help lead this team not only on the court, but also on the stats sheet. It would be nice to see his scoring more around the 15.0 to 18.0 ppg realm that he has on the international level. He does this and the Huskers will have another threat that can hopefully bring them back to the NCAA tournament in 2017.