Breakers give Webster a contract lifeline
He's glimpsed the future without basketball in his life, and it was a bleak landscape. Now repeat offender Corey Webster gets one last chance to demonstrate he has left his shady past behind.
The NZ Breakers today announced Webster, the 23-year-old Tall Blacks guard, as their 10th, and final, fully contracted player for their tilt at an Australian NBL title threepeat.
As tipped by Fairfax Media on July 22, the Breakers have decided to offer Webster a career lifeline as they cast aside his repeat illegal substance infractions and pin faith in what the young combo guard is selling as a lifestyle turnaround.
Webster has served a year-long ban after his second positive test for a banned substance near the end of the Breakers' charge to their inaugural championship, and it's been a long, tough haul for the youngster since.
"I know what it was to have it taken away and that was very painful. Basketball is my life and getting this opportunity once again means everything to me," said Webster. "I am only halfway there, though, I have to earn the respect of the players and the Breakers family, and I have to prove I have made the right changes."
Webster admitted the ball is now in his court to repay the faith pinned in him by the club he has been part of since his teenage years..
"The mistakes you make don't define you provided they put you on a path to better things," he said. "So long as you learn from them, make the right changes and become a good professional it will go some way to proving the club has made a good decision to bring me back."
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis has watched from afar as Webster has spent more than a year on the outer, stacking supermarket shelves, working odd-jobs to bring in cash, and coming into the gym and hustling away on his own to keep himself in shape.
He has spent the last two months in China working out with the team of former Australian national coach Brian Goorjian - an unpaid assignment that came with no guarantees, but which Webster snapped up as a chance to prove he was committed to this comeback.
"He's certainly done some things away from the court and made some changes off the court we needed him to make in order for him to be given another opportunity," said Lemanis.
"He's been chased by a few other ANBL teams, but he wanted to be a Breaker, he was desperate to be a Breaker again. I think he wants to come here and put some things right.
"He's going to have to win the trust of all his team-mates, and everyone in the Breakers family again. We certainly made him jump through some hoops before we signed him. There was no guarantee that there was going to be a contract but he did everything that was asked of him."
Lemanis said he had nothing but good reports back from Goorjian about Webster's time in China.
"He did it all without question or guarantee, just to prove to us he's committed and prepared to do what it takes to be a professional basketball player and be a Breaker.
"With that being said he's now part of the group and we move on. We've accepted that he's made some changes, now he'll be judged on his actions from here on in."
Breakers general manager Richard Clarke said Webster had faced the "reality" of life without basketball and the club believed he had turned a corner.
"He has worked incredibly hard on and off court over the past 12 months," said Clarke. "We are proud of how he has reacted to what could have been a career-defining obstacle. He has earned back his opportunity to be a Breaker again."
Webster rounds out a back-court quartet of import Cedric Jackson and experienced Australians CJ Bruton and Daryl Corletto, and Lemanis says the Kiwi will do more than warm the bench.
"Corey is a great scorer, he can play both guard positions which really helps us. Hopefully this turns into one of those great stories.
"We're bringing him in expecting him to play. One of our strengths the last few seasons has been the depth of the group, that's enabled us to continue to play at a certain pace and tempo over 40 minutes and it's also good for competitive practices which is where we do a lot of our improving."
The Breakers squad looks highly capable of completing just the league's second threepeat of titles, following on from the Sydey Kings who achieved the feat between 2002-05.
There are only two defections from last year's squad, with popular American centre Gary Wilkinson replaced by former Gold Coast Blaze big man Will Hudson and Webster slotting in for close friend and fellow Tall Black BJ Anthony.
With Jackson - widely recognised as the league's best player - Bruton, Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and seven-foot Kiwi Alex Pledger expected to start, and Hudson set to lead another sharp bench unit, the Breakers should again be the team they're all chasing when the league tips off on October 5.
NZ BREAKERS ROSTER
Cedric Jackson, Corey Webster, Daryl Corletto, CJ Bruton, Tom Abercrombie, Leon Henry, Mika Vukona, Dillon Boucher, Will Hudson, Alex Pledger
Josh Bloxham, Reuben Te Rangi, Morgan Natanahira. Non-contracted development player: Tai Webster.