Corey Webster starting to deliver on potential
Early in the deciding game of the Tall Blacks' first-up tournament in China, Corey Webster took a wicked thump to the temple that might have knocked a less dialled-in basketballer off his stride.
But Webster shook off the blow and came back to knock down a succession of dagger jumpers as his team blasted Chinese NBL champs, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, off the court 97-75.
That completed a three-game sweep of the four-nation tournament for Nenad Vucinic's World Cup-bound New Zealand men's team, and a coronation of sorts for Webster who has well and truly announced himself as a linchpin of this squad.
Webster's always had game as a shooter, but not always the consistency, defensive fortitude or adaptability to garner business-end minutes when the likes of Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie are on deck.
But now he's proving he can shift over to the one spot when needed and that he deserves to be in the mix when games are being decided.
In yesterday's victory over the Tigers Webster contributed a team-high 19 points in just over 20 minutes, making six of his seven shots inside the arc, and two of four outside.
He added three assists, a steal and an O-board, and played some pretty decent defence.
''He's been patchy in the past,'' noted Tall Blacks assistant coach Pero Cameron yesterday.
''But he's in a good head space right now. He's closing out games better and defensively he's 100 per cent better.
''It's great. He's really leading this team. In the past we haven't been able to play him too many minutes and his second-half efforts haven't been great. But that was one of the best second halves I've seen him have.
''He was on fire, and offensively he couldn't be stopped. He got whacked in the temple during the game, and most guys would lose it. But he stood up and went on a tear which was good to see.''
Cameron is well placed to judge Webster's maturation.
The former Tall Black great was the young combo guard's NBL coach at the Saints and has seen him break into the national setup as a gifted but at times troubled youngster.
Webster has missed campaigns because of failed drug tests, but he's come through and matured into just the offensive force these undersized Tall Blacks need.
Further assessment is needed, but Cameron figures there's now even a chance that Webster could log time alongside both Penney and Abercrombie in an explosive perimeter attack.
''Some things he's very good at and some things he needs to improve, but offensively he's pretty creative and he can get that ball in the hoop.''
Another player heading in the right direction is the 2.11m Rob Loe who had 16 points on seven-of-nine shooting against the Chinese, and an equally pleasing five boards.
The Tall Blacks desperately need Loe to play big as they deal with the absence of Alex Pledger; and there are signs he's coming to grips with that challenge.
''He's definitely made some adjustments, flying in there for rebounds and on some pick and rolls to the hoop,'' Cameron said.
''Overall Rob is making progress - his improvements are daily and he's a pleasure to coach because he's really smart.''
Perhaps the best sign of all for the Tall Blacks in their tournament close-out was that they were able to sit starters Mika Vukona and Tom Abercrombie without undue effect.
They now head for the second tournament in China with a real spring in their step, and the likelihood that Nick Horvath is ready for his first minutes of the tour.