Corey Webster doing Tall Blacks proud in Spain
Somewhere over the last six or seven weeks on the road Corey Webster has morphed into one of the best young basketballers on the planet.
That status was underlined in Bilbao yesterday when the 25-year-old combo guard was easily the best player on the court as the Tall Blacks came within an ace of a massive upset over Turkey on the opening day of basketball's World Cup in Spain.
Webster stroked a sumptuous 22 points on 10-of-22 shooting as he propelled the New Zealanders into what looked a decisive 12-point fourth quarter led, and an 11-point advantage inside the final five minutes.
That the Tall Blacks ultimately came up frustratingly short against the runners-up from 2010 - both Webster and Kirk Penney rimmed out late bombs that would have forced overtime - was no fault of Webster, who had a huge crowd at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre singing his praises.
Afterwards his team-mates and coaches joined in that chorus of approval for a player his old Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis used to call "The Microwave" for his ability heat up so quickly off the bench.
"Corey is probably a starter in most teams in the world, but is coming off the bench because we've got Kirk [Penney] in the same position," said head coach Nenad Vucinic. "He's showing his character, he's not bothered with that and comes in and gives us that instant help off the bench which is crucial."
One-time Westlake Boys team-mate Rob Loe marvelled at his team-mate's fearless play as time and again he broke down the Turks off the dribble.
"Corey has always had that confidence, and always been a great shooter," said Loe, who chipped in with an impressive 11 points and six big offensive boards in just 18 minutes. "It's good to see it there on the world stage."
Veteran Casey Frank added his approval.
"He was fantastic down the stretch, especially in that third quarter when he really took over the basketball game. It's all he could have hoped for coming out in his first time in a World Cup and performing like that."
For Webster it was a bittersweet occasion, with a massive win just slipping through the Tall Blacks' grasp. But he felt there were positives to take into the second-day clash against the Dominican Republic.
"We can look at it and say we can compete with any team," he said. "They're one of the best teams in the world so we just need to ride on that. There were positives and negatives and we just need to weigh those up and move forward."
Webster never felt the game was safe, even when the lead stretched to a dozen in the final term. "In international basket you can never think like that. You've got to keep grinding, but we froze at the end so we just need to lock in those last quarters and get the job done."
In terms of his own rich vein of form and confidence, Webster was taking it all in his stride. "That's just me - it never really changes, and it doesn't matter who we're playing. You've got to have that confidence at this level because if you don't you're just going to get crushed."
In terms of backing up in just over 18 hours against the Dominicans, Webster said it was all about facing realities.
"You don't forget about it, but you move on. You've got to take the anger and point it in the right direction. Tomorrow will be a different game, they play a different style. So we remember what today felt like and take it out on them."
Marc Hinton travelled to Spain with the assistance of Basketball New Zealand.