Bas­ket­ball opens doors for the Web­sters

The Washington Post Sunday - - COURTSIDE - John Fe­in­stein For more from the author, visit his blog at www.fe­in­steinon­the­brink.com.

For all the sto­ries about what can go wrong in col­lege ath­let­ics, there are still oc­ca­sion­ally sto­ries about what can go right.

One of those sto­ries un­folded Satur­day af­ter­noon at Smith Cen­ter, when Har­vard came to town to play Ge­orge Washington. The Crim­son pulled out a 67-62 vic­tory to up their record to 12-3, ral­ly­ing with its two lead­ing scor­ers on the bench with in­juries that oc­curred dur­ing the game.

Chris­tian Webster, Lan­don Class of 2009, started at shoot­ing guard for Har­vard. He came into the game av­er­ag­ing 14.1 points per game, mak­ing him the sec­ond-lead­ing scorer for the Crim­son, and had eight points in 14 min­utes when he felt a sharp pain in his hip dur­ing a scram­ble for the ball in­side.

Even with treat­ment, he could barely walk back up the steps from the locker room at half­time, so he sat on the bench, eyes rimmed in red from the pain and from frus­tra­tion at not be­ing able to play in his home­com­ing game.

But as Har­vard ral­lied from a seven-point half­time deficit, no one cheered harder for the Crim­son than Dar­ryl Webster, Coolidge High School Class of 1982 and GW Class of 1986, proud fa­ther of the in­jured Har­vard sopho­more with the sweet shot and the calm de­meanor. A few rows up from the Webster fam­ily sat Gerry Gimelstob, who Dar­ryl Webster would tell you was largely re­spon­si­ble for his son be­ing on the floor in a Har­vard uni­form.

“I was raised by my grand­par­ents,” Dar­ryl Webster said as peo­ple be­gan to file into the gym. “My grand­fa­ther never got be­yond the fourth grade. I was lucky to grad­u­ate from high school. I had a 2.0 grade-point av­er­age and bad SATs. But Gerry took a chance on me. I came here and got into the re­me­dial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram be­fore my fresh­man year.

“Even then, it was a strug­gle at first. Gerry had a rule we had to go to study hall ev­ery day or come here and run around the build­ing at 5 o’clock in the morn­ing. I went to study hall. Some­time my sopho­more year, the light went on. I had never re­ally like to read. All of a sud­den, I loved to read. It changed my life.”

Gimelstob was in his first year as Ge­orge Washington’s coach when he re­cruited Webster. “ The school hadn’t re­ally been re­cruit­ing the in­ner city in D.C.,” he said Satur­day. “I thought to be suc­cess­ful we had to re­cruit there. There was too much tal­ent right on our doorstep to not give it a shot.”

Dar­ryl Webster was a bruis­ing 6-foot-6 post player, a two-time All-Met who was get­ting re­cruit­ing looks from Mary­land, Con­necti­cut and Pitts­burgh. When Gimelstob saw him play in a lo­cal all-star game, he de­cided to go af­ter him.

“He told me I’d play, I’d help build a win­ner, I’d be go­ing to a great school and I’d only be a few blocks from where my grand­par­ents lived,” Dar­ryl Webster said. “All of that sold me.”

Gimelstob had to fight to get Webster into school — even with the re­me­dial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, Webster was still an aca­demic risk — and he had to keep af­ter him con­stantly un­til the light went on.

“I re­mem­ber go­ing to his room once and he was cry­ing,” Gimelstob said. “He said, ‘ Coach, I don’t think I can make it here.’ I just told him I knew he could make it. I’m glad, for once, I was right about some­thing.”

In a bas­ket­ball sense, the next four years didn’t work out quite the way ei­ther Webster or Gimelstob had hoped. Al­though Webster started 23 games as a fresh­man, he never av­er­aged more than 10 points a game dur­ing his ca­reer. Gimelstob, in spite of some im­pres­sive wins early, was fired af­ter four years. Satur­day was the first time Gimelstob had been at Smith Cen­ter since his fir­ing; it was the first time back for Webster since grad­u­a­tion.

Even though he never be­came the star he had hoped to be in bas­ket­ball, Webster grad­u­ated with a de­gree in so­ci­ol­ogy — and later got a Masters in clin­i­cal so­ci­ol­ogy at Catholic — and now works in the D.C. pub­lic schools coun­sel­ing kids. “I tell the kids I work with not to make the same mis­takes I made when I was young,” Webster said. “I told Chris­tian the same things when he was young. For­tu­nately, he lis­tened.”

It was Chris­tian’s Jell­eff League coach, Sam Po­tolic­chio, who first rec­om­mended Lan­don to the Web­sters. Chris­tian was a sev­enth-grader at Alice Deal Mid­dle School and his fa­ther was hop­ing he would end up at ei­ther Gon­zaga or Maret. Nei­ther dis­played much in­ter­est. Lan­don, which didn’t have nearly the bas­ket­ball pro­gram at the time as some other pri­vate schools, was in­ter­ested.

“It was a huge change for me,” Chris­tian said. “I went from a pub­lic school in the in­ner city to a jacket-and-tie school on 75 acres of land that looked like a col­lege cam­pus. It was a big ad­just­ment. There were morn­ings I woke up to go to the bus when I’d say, ‘Mom, I don’t want to go to­day.’ ”

But, like his fa­ther at GW, the light went on for Chris­tian. He ended up lead­ing Lan­don to the IAC ti­tle as a se­nior and was re­cruited by sev­eral mid-ma­jors and just about ev­ery­one in the Ivy League and the Pa­triot League. But Har­vard had the in­side track from the out­set.

“For me, it was Coach [ Tommy] Amaker and the fact that they were the first school that re­ally came af­ter me,” Chris­tian said. He smiled. “For my dad though, I think it was the fact that it was Har­vard.”

Dar­ryl Webster didn’t dis­agree. “When I sit and look at him in a Har­vard uni­form and I think about my grand­fa­ther, and then that I was the first per­son in my fam­ily to go to col­lege and grad­u­ate from col­lege, it’s just un­fath­omable,” he said. “I al­ways used a metaphor with Chris­tian: stay on the train. A lot of the kids he grew up with got off the train, got into drugs and trou­ble. I saw it, too, when I was young. When he went to Har­vard, aca­dem­i­cally, the train had reached its des­ti­na­tion. Now we’ll see where he goes next.”

Chris­tian Webster’s next step is an Ivy League ti­tle, some­thing the Crim­son men have never won.

“ There are no men’s banners in our gym, only women’s banners,” he said. “Ev­ery day we go in there to prac­tice and look up at those banners, the fact that we have none mo­ti­vates us. I want to be part of mak­ing his­tory at Har­vard — put a men’s ban­ner up in our gym.”

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Har­vard bas­ket­ball player Chris­tianWeb­ster holds his hands high, and his fa­ther Dar­ryl, far right, joins in on the cheer­ing from be­hind the bench dur­ing a win over Ge­orgeWash­ing­ton on Satur­day.

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