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In Search of Hoops Heaven: An Interview with Kiwi NBA Hopeful Tai Webster

He's New Zealand's best chance of basketball stardom since Steven Adams.
© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In the often over-blown world of American professional sport, the NBA Draft carries its own elevated level of theatrical hyperbole.

Decked out in their finest glad rags, the world's hottest college hoops merchants (average age around 20) gather in New York City with dreams of the NBA commissioner calling out their name. Some players slide down the board, while others get picked up early. Some eventually turn into NBA superstars, others hard-working regulars. Some blow out while most never cut it, at all. Cameras stream the pressure and excitement to a hungrily waiting basketball world.


Though he's the best chance for a Kiwi to get picked up since Steven Adams in 2013, Auckland's Tai Webster won't be in New York City for this year's NBA Draft on Friday (New Zealand time).

The 22-year-old New Zealander will be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where he has been training the last few months—and waiting for his agent to let him know about his inclusion in pre-draft NBA mini-camps.

© Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

© Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Webster—a former star University of Nebraska point guard—has had workouts with six NBA teams over the last two months. The Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks and, earlier this week, NBA champion Golden State Warriors have all had a look at Webster's talents.

The teams are interested thanks to Webster's best year at Nebraska in 2016-2017. The Kiwi averaged 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game in his final year with the Cornhuskers, establishing himself as a 'must-see' star in the Big Ten conference. Top draft experts have since floated his name as a potential second round draft pick, who could develop into a reliable benchman for virtually any NBA team.

If Webster were to be selected, he would become just the third New Zealander to ever be picked up in Draft, following Sean Marks (44th overall to the New York Knicks, in 1998) and Adams (12th overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder).

Speaking exclusively with VICE New Zealand, Webster says he wasn't too worked up about getting his name called out on Friday.


Like his older brother Corey, an ex-Breakers star who recently attended a Dallas Mavericks mini-camp, the Kiwi baller is instead focusing on picking up a post-draft contract and working his way into the NBA "the hard way."

© Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

VICE: Kia ora, Tai. You've been pretty busy over the last few months since you left Nebraska, working out with NBA teams and preparing for the Draft and what comes next. What are the workouts like?
Tai Webster: It depends on the team and what they need, really. I've been at teams where it's only guards in the workouts, but for the most part, it's normally two point guards, two forwards and two big guys.
You just go in, and it's really competitive. That's all it is. It's about competing and just showing what kind of grit you have. They put you in a bunch of situations where you're competing against the other guy for the spot. Someone's always in opposition, whether it's one-on-one, three-on-three or shooting competitions.
They'll try to almost confuse you with information. They want you to learn on the fly. They want to only tell you once and see you learn and be able to execute.

More than anything, it sounds like the team workouts are about testing character. Would you agree?
100 per cent, man. They know the players and what they can do. They've done extensive research. They call high school coaches, they call academic advisors and teachers; they know every single thing about the people they are bringing into the workouts.
So, you know, they know how I play. They just really want to see that mental tenacity and those sorts of things.


What happens at the end of the team workouts? Do teams give you any feedback or is it just a case of 'we'll be in touch'?
Yeah, it's kinda just like 'hey good job, we'll be in touch. Thanks for coming.' There's a lot of uncertainty around it.
At the end of the day, it's a business. They're trying to win a championship so they only want the best.

Is there any particular team or organisation that you've been impressed with the most
They're all professional organisations, and all run a tight ship. They've all impressed me, really. I didn't expect the level of detail—it's another step up from college.

Your brother Corey is over in the States at the moment too, recently working out with the Dallas Mavericks. How has he been getting on, and what do you guys talk about?
He's more motivated than ever and knows he's got a great opportunity in front of him. Those opportunities are never a guarantee or anything like that—never even really close.
But if you're behind the ball, that's all you really need. He's more motivated than ever. He's getting up there in age and this is an absolute dream he's had for so long. He's going so hard, and I'm really happy for him. It's awesome to see that fire back in his eyes.
At the end of the day, he's my big brother. I always just wanted to be like him and follow in his footsteps, and to see him over here doing what I'm doing, it's awesome—for both of us.


In the past, you're compared yourself to NBA guards like Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Tim Frazier (New Orleans) and Patrick Beverley (Houston Rockets). Can you expand on that a bit? Why are those the type of player you see yourself as, potentially in the NBA?
I don't think I play like those guys, because I take a lot more shots than those guys do in the NBA and score a lot more than they do. But for me to be at the next level, I believe I have to play like those guys.
Obviously I'm not going to be someone coming in, taking all these shots. I'm not going to be a superstar. I'm not the 18-year-old phenom coming in like [UCLA college star] Lonzo Ball, ready to take over a team or whatever.
Everyone has their role, and those guys [Mills, Frazier and Beverley] play a particular role that I think I could fulfil for an NBA team.

In terms of draft day itself, what will you be doing? Do you have any nerves about it? What do you think about the Draft?
I'll probably just be chilling down here in South Carolina. I'm not too worried about the Draft, to be honest. It's what comes after the draft that's important for me.
If I don't get drafted, I'm not worried about it. There's been plenty of guys that have gone through the hard way, I suppose you could call it. I'm going to have opportunities—I'm going to be on a Summer League team and go into camp with teams.
Those opportunities are going to be there for me, regardless. I'm not worried about the draft—I'm just focused on getting better every day and be ready for what comes after it.

Taking a step back, how do you reflect on your time at the University of Nebraska now that it's over? There was a massive outpouring of love and respect for you in your last few games—it seems like you'd become a bit of a cult hero there in Lincoln.
It was crazy. It was the end of a great big journey for me and it was evident that there was some real love there. It was pretty emotional for me.
It was a rollercoaster ride for me, to say the least, but they stuck with me; especially the fans. To see them all come out for me at the end for my last game, and to have them play the New Zealand anthem for me as well; it was awesome.
I'm just thankful to the university for it all. I was just there to play basketball at the end of the day, and the whole feeling there, at the end there, was just so cool.

Read more: Tai Webster's Nebraskan Basketball Odyssey

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