Nebraska sophomore guard Tai Webster took on the biggest basketball challenge of his life on Tuesday morning when his New Zealand national team faced a Team USA squad loaded with NBA all-stars in the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
While the USA rolled up New Zealand in a 98-71 blowout, the nationally televised game on ESPN2 served as one big recruiting pitch for NU head coach Tim Miles and the Huskers.
In talking about Webster, who finished with four points and two blocks in 15 minutes of action, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla poured on the praise for the 6-foot-4, 200-pound combo guard and the direction of Nebraska's program. Fraschilla has been very high on Webster since even before he committed to the Huskers, calling him a potential top-25 prospect had be played high school ball in the United States.
"Tai Webster is a nice, young player," Fraschilla said during the broadcast. "He struggled last year at Nebraska, but Tim Miles and his staff have high hopes for him. Nebraska's program has turned around."
Webster, who averaged 3.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and a team-high 1.9 assists per game as a true freshman last season, held his own against NBA standout guards like Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose. He had a big block on an Irving layup and followed up with a long jumper from just inside the 3-point line. Webster also made both of his free-throw attempts.
But the biggest takeaway was the national exposure Webster gained for Nebraska. After landing three commits in the past two months in 2015 prospects Glynn Watson and Michael Jacobson along with Kansas transfer Andrew White, the momentum behind NU's program is stronger than ever.
Assuming Webster's confidence gets the boost most would expect from going head-to-head with the best players in the world, his experience at the FIBA World Cup could be huge for both him and the Huskers.
"This is about as high of a level of competition as he's seen in his young career internationally," Fraschilla said. "Here's the great thing for Tai Webster if you're Tim Miles: there's nobody in the Big Ten that's going to be any tougher to play against than these guys (Team USA). They have a great nucleus coming back at Nebraska, that brand-new arena. Good players (in the Big Ten). Zak Irvin from Michigan and guys like that, but certainly not Kyrie Irving."
Fraschilla also had kind words for NU assistant coach Chris Harriman and his son, Avery, who is battling his third round of leukemia.
"A lot of people know, his son Avery is battling really serious health issues with cancer," Fraschilla said. "We all know Avery is strong, and everybody in Nebraska is pulling for you, Avery, and we are too."