LINCOLN — Tai Webster has faced professional basketball players in New Zealand and Australia, and competed in international Olympic qualifying events.
But the competition in workouts with his new Nebraska teammates, the incoming freshman guard said Wednesday, has been an eye-opener.
“It’s a lot quicker than what I’m used to,” he said in his first interview since gaining NCAA certification earlier this week. “People out here are a lot fitter and more athletic.”
In general, Webster said, the pro teams he faced had “two or three” comparable athletes to the Huskers, who finished 10th last season in the Big Ten. “We have a whole bunch of athletic people here,” he said.
Nothing in Webster’s demeanor indicated that he is worried about fitting into the major college basketball scene.
“I think it’s a big learning curve,” he said. “But I don’t think it will take me too long to adjust.”
Webster also sounded in a hurry to advance his basketball career. He hedged on whether he’ll use all four seasons of eligibility at NU.
“The dream would be to go to the League (NBA) as early as possible,” he said. “But whatever is best for my career ... what’s going to make me the best player and get me to where I want to go.”
Pro teams back home were interested in paying him to play now. He had one offer that he estimated at six figures.
“I was really interested in playing professionally,” Webster said. “But I thought by coming to college I could improve a little bit more from the good experience.”
So why did the player ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla has compared to a top 50 American high schooler choose Nebraska over Pittsburgh, Virginia, Wake Forest and North Carolina State?
A big reason was the presence of Husker assistant Chris Harriman, a native of Australia known for his international recruiting chops. Another was that NU’s basketball situation — little tradition, but major new investment in the sport — intrigued Webster.
“It looked like they were turning around their program with a new coaching staff,” he said. “They made me feel they have everything I need here to move my career further.”
Webster, listed on Internet sites as anywhere from 6-foot to 6-4, was measured upon arrival at 6-3 ľ in shoes. He’s a combo guard who says his strength is “getting to the rim, creating for others and trying to be as creative as possible.”
As for things to work on?
“The workouts were a shock — a real shock,” Webster said. “I’m not used to all the fitness work and weight training, but it’s good. I’m enjoying it.”
In New Zealand, he said, “We lift weights. But it’s just not, I guess, as important as it is here.”
Another adjustment is arriving late for a workout because of academic commitments.
Webster is taking two classes in the second summer session, which is why he still toted a book bag Wednesday afternoon as his teammates wrapped up small-group sessions.
Academic issues were part of the reason Webster’s eligibility was on hold until Tuesday. He chuckled softly upon reporting he took the SAT four times and the ACT once.
“To hear I was cleared was a huge relief,” he said. “I had no idea whether I was going to be able to play. Everyone has been telling me it should be fine and not to worry about it. But I really had no idea.”