The author wrote this after waking up next to an oil derrick west of the town of Duckwater, Nevada. He has been on a two week long bender/walkabout. Whatever you would like to call it.
Most of what has transpired over the last few weeks has been either forgotten or purposely erased from his memory. He doesn’t remember why he is here or even how he was transported. He just knew he still had too many questions to answer and his journey was far from over.
The end of the Nebrasketball season has brought a lot of cheap scotch and soul searching. Questions such as the purpose of coaching contracts, graduate transfers, and the true meaning of Tyronn Lue’s number hanging in Pinnacle Bank Arena has been keeping him transfixed on his journey.
Today he takes a step back. Back to reflect on the lone senior that has played all four years in Lincoln. A player who came half way around the world.
For some reason Nebraska had had the luck of having two players stay and play extensively in the program for their entire four year career. Considering how hard it has been to keep good players in any college basketball program, it’s kind of an amazing feat.
Last year we saw the exit of Shavon Shields. A player who’s fathers past on the gridiron in Lincoln could have easily made the pressure of success a little too much to handle. However, he left having played in almost every game and a consistency on the court that any coach would be envious to have.
Tai Webster has the longevity on the court like Shavon, but a different story.
He came to Nebraska from Auckland, New Zealand. A young player with a lot of international experience. Especially at such a young age. By the time he was 17 he was already playing on the New Zealand National team. Constantly scoring in the double digits and shooting over 50% for a majority of the time there. He was one of the top point guards in the 2013 class. He was the star of the class. Webster was going to be a key component to Nebrasketball’s future.
But like anyone who comes in new, there is a certain period of adapting to your new environment. Adapting can take time. For some longer than others.
His contribution to the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament team was notable. He lead the team in assists and had a handful of games where he had double digit points. Tai was a little lost on the court at times but was coming along fairly well. He was adapting to the American game. Something that most international players need to do.
Tai’s sophomore year started out well enough. While he had yet to get in the starting rotation he was coming off the bench and contributing on a regular basis. The early non conference games gave him some much needed time to shine. His transition into the American game had seemed to be blossoming.
The conference slate came in and seemed to halt what progress was made. He regressed a bit. You see, the international game is a little more spread out and less aggressive than what you see here in the state. There is more flow and ball movement than what we have here. If you spent most of your life in a system that keeps the ball flowing then the latter would almost be like hitting a wall.
Tai kept struggling against the big aggressive play of the Big Ten as the season went on. Teams wore each other down and to many the defense was how you controlled games. This seemed to slow Websters game down a bit. He no longer had the freedom that he did while playing in New Zealand. The athleticism was greater and so were the defenses.
His junior year he started to get a little more aggressive and his playing increased. He even made the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. On top of that, the kiwi was finally averaging over 10 points a game. A nice flip of script from the previous season.
However, his play was also becoming hot and cold as the season went on. Some games he would be in the double digits in points and leading the team at point. Others, he couldn’t hit a basket or wouldn’t even try at time. Leaving the duties to others on the team. Defense was also hit or miss at times. It was as if he couldn’t get out of his head long enough to play a complete game.
It got to the point where Coach Miles felt it was best to bench him for a few games. Tai didn’t start but over the course of a few games he started to hone in his game. Getting back to the style of play that the Huskers needed to succeed. He was playing better while coming off the bench. Maybe the pressure of starting was too much for him? It’s really hard to say.
This last year was again, a trying year for the Tai. However, for an entirely different reason. For once, he was the one scoring all the baskets. He was was the once keeping his own on defense. For once, Tai Webster was the once constant player on the Husker men’s basketball team.
This was really his year. The kid from New Zealand had finally found his rhythm on the court. He had very few down games. He almost constantly lead the team in scoring and assists. In fact, he had double digit points in every game but one.
Too bad the team as a whole couldn’t follow suit.
Tai has come a long ways in his Husker journey. Was it what he or the fans expected? Probably not on a few levels but he did finally become the power player that so many had hoped he would be when he first stepped foot on campus four years ago.
Was the trip across the Pacific and half way across the United States worth it? Yes, in the end Tai had a career end that most players would be envious with. Hopefully he will be able to keep playing for years to come.
An elderly man has since picked up our author in a rusted out ‘78 Chevy pickup. He settled in the back bed as they drove off to the north. They never spoke a word to each other during the drive. The author didn’t know where he would be dropped off nor did he care. There were too many questions bouncing around in his mind along with a prolonged headache to care at the moment.
He takes a drink of coffee from a thermos he had with him when he woke up to take away the headache.
At least he thought it was coffee.....