Corey Webster embraces his back-up role
The old Corey Webster might have packed a sad at being asked to back up a player as good as Cedric Jackson. The new one is thriving on the challenge.
The 24-year-old Webster is fresh off his career-best performance for the NZ Breakers in the Australian NBL, the man his coach calls "the Microwave" heating up for 14 points in as many minutes in last Friday's decisive 98-71 victory over the Perth Wildcats.
The maturation of Webster and fellow "blue squad" bench member Leon Henry into fully fledged contributors has been one of the stories of this Breakers season. Coach Andrej Lemanis now runs a legit 10-deep rotation and admits he struggles to find some the minutes their performances deserve.
"It's pleasing those guys are able to come in and contribute, and some of it is just a natural function of time," said the coach yesterday as attention turned to Saturday's visit to Sydney.
"We believe in them talent wise, we know what they bring to the table, and they've had limited opportunities. But with each one they get a little bit more confident and they understand what it takes to play in this league.
"Our biggest strength as a club is we have people prepared to sacrifice for the good of the group. They're both guys who could rightly demand more minutes and could [complain] about not playing. But they understand they need to play their piece in the puzzle."
Webster is giving every impression of coming of age as a Breaker, the 24-year-old now playing with a heady mix of confidence and skill in his new role as backup point guard, behind consensus league MVP Jackson.
That's a job many would consider a poisoned chalice. Not only do you go against the best player in the league every day in training, you know he's going to play loaded minutes on game night.
Back a few years the headstrong young Webster might have struggled with this. But, after sitting out last year under a suspension for using synthetic cannabis, this is a fellow with a new perspective on life.
"I love it," said Webster of his shift from two guard to the point. "Just to be working with an NBA calibre player is such a privilege. He should be in the NBA, he's good enough, and it's good for me to go up against someone like that. I get to pick his brain with that basketball knowledge he has, and it's just good to go up against an athlete who's at the next level.
"He's really fast, so if you can hold your own against someone like that you start to feel good and think you can play against anyone."
That daily diet of getting worked over by Action Jackson has clearly been good for Webster. He always had a swagger about him, and a nice pull-up J, but he now has a more well-rounded game that's getting recognition from his coach.
"I'm definitely feeling better out there," said Webster yesterday, citing improved defence as his biggest move this season.
"It's always frustrating coming off the bench when you're used to starting and playing a lot of minutes. But I've had a couple of good games, and feel like I'm contributing - and we're winning, which is the main thing."
Webster says the "blue squad" (after the colour singlets they wear in training) have developed a real pride about the impact they're all making. Led by veterans Dillon Boucher and CJ Bruton and also including young American Will Hudson, they're proving difference-makers as the Breakers continue to set new standards in this league.
"We feel like when we get in the game there's no dropoff. We bring the energy just like the starters, and we're confident we can go out there and beat any starting squad or any bench squad we go up against," added Webster.
"We go at it with the starters here every day, and we beat them a lot in practice. Everyone's feeling good about it."
Last week against Perth the bench contributed 45 points in a comprehensive performance. More of the same on Saturday night and the Breakers will be well on their way to win No 11 on the bounce.