It's taken Tai Webster longer than most fans might have hoped given the amount of hype that surrounded him upon his arrival at Nebraska, but slowly but surely the freshman point guard is starting to develop into the player many expect him to eventually become.
He still isn't putting up eye-popping numbers statistically, but Webster's impact is being felt more and more beyond the box score. In fact, maybe his best game so far as Husker came in Monday night's upset of No. 17 Ohio State, as he finished with nine points - his highest total yet in Big Ten Conference play - and shot a season-best 5-of-6 from the free throw line. More importantly, he also helped shut down the Buckeyes' star point guard Aaron Craft, who made just two shots from the field and had more turnovers (4) than he did assists (3).
Nebraska head coach Tim Miles has stressed patience with the former New Zealand standout since the day he arrived in Lincoln this past summer, but that certainly wasn't helped when some national media outlets pegged Webster as a potential top-25 player in the 2013 recruiting class before he ever played a game on American soil. Though there has been some frustration within NU's fan base regarding the 6-foot-4, 194-pounder's slow start, he's finally beginning to give a glimpse of what could be to come as he continues to settle in and develop as a player.
"I just think he continues to grow in confidence, but more importantly, growing an understanding of game plan, defensive concepts that we're trying to get through, and then how to find his way offensively," Miles said. "This team has enough guys that require shots, so he's kind of taken on a role of being a distributor… Tai understands that, and I think he's also understanding now when he's on the receiving end, when to attack, when to drive, when to create for somebody else or score."
Webster has already gone through a baptism by fire in his first collegiate season, having to go head-to-head with some of the top point guards in the country. Along with Craft, Webster has matched up with the likes of UMass's Chaz Williams, UAB's Chad Frazier, Purdue's Ronnie Johnson as well as several other top-level shooting guards.
"He's learned in a hurry how difficult this conference is and how much growth and development our program and our players still have to go to get to where we want to be," Miles said. "I think it's a great experience for him, there's no doubt about it."
Coincidentally, Webster will be going up against the player Miles hopes he can one day emulate in Penn State combo guard D.J. Newbill when Nebraska travels to take on the Nittany Lions on Thursday night. Though Newbill is playing predominately at the two guard this season, he handled the bulk of the point guard duties last season with star Tim Frazier out for the year with an injury. The 6-foot-4 Newbill is thriving this season with Frazier back in the lineup, averaging 17.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
"When I look at (Newbill), he's kind of what I hope Tai Webster can develop into," Miles said. "One of those kind of combo guards that does a little bit of everything and with good size and good strength."