Webster can’t wait to get the season started

Bradley Piros , Sports Editor

The Western Illinois men’s basketball team will start their season on the road on Nov. 5 against Big 10 opponent Indiana University. The entire team is looking forward to that game, but no one is more excited to get the season started than junior guard Kobe Webster.

“Getting it started, I’m ready to head down to Bloomington; IU [Indiana University] is the first game, so, that will be a great environment to kick off the season for us. Obviously, I’m from Indy, so, I have a lot of fans and I know plenty of people that go to IU,” Webster said on Monday afternoon.

Last season, as a sophomore, Webster started every single game of the season for the Leathernecks and averaged 17 points per game, which led the team. He also had a team high 97 assists and 34 steals, shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc and 42.9 percent from the rest of the floor.

A year ago, Western made history at The Summit League Tournament when they were the first No. 8 seed to take down the No. 1 team in the tournament. In this case, the Leathernecks beat their long-time rival South Dakota State University Jackrabbits 79-76. Webster was one of two players to score 17 points that game. Sophomore forward Ben Pyle also notched 17 while sophomore guard Zion Young put up 13. Graduate Brandon Gilbeck and transfer Isaac Johnson each scored 13 to help the cause, but they won’t be here this time around.

“I would say without Brandon is going to be the toughest,” Webster said. “We talk about it all the time. Coach Wright likes to make jokes about it, saying that if we didn’t get beat off the dribble so much, Brandon probably wouldn’t be the leading shot-blocker in the country.

The 7-foot machine from Spring Green, Wis. will surely be missed, but with all due respect for one of his best friends on the team Johnson, Webster didn’t have much to say.

“Yeah. It’s definitely different, but you got to keep pushing forward. I talked to him a couple times. He’s doing alright,” Webster said.

Johnson was one of Webster’s closest friends on and off the court, but a few months after the season ended last year, it was official; Johnson would be transferring. The junior out of Minneapolis took his game to the Nicholls State University Colonels in the Southland Conference. He and his team also kick off their season on Nov. 5 against a Big 10 opponent when they head up to Champaign, Ill. to take on the University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

With Webster’s impressive stats, it makes him an immediate target on the floor. I asked what it was going to take to get back to those same numbers from last year.

“It’s going to be tough. A lot of opponents start keying in on me, especially late in the season,” Webster said. “But, the teammates I have, they always find a way to get me looks and then playing off them has definitely helped in terms of attacking the paint, being able to kick it to shooters. So, having those guys around me has definitely helped. And then, obviously coach has confidence in me to make the right play.”

Giving most of the credit to his teammates and head coach Billy Wright, Webster definitely shows no signs of arrogance, rather complete respect for everyone around him. He kept that same mindset when I implied he’s the most well-known athlete on campus.

“I don’t know. I’ve never even heard that,” Webster said with a laugh. “I like to stay to myself. I stay in my apartment most of the time. I don’t really do much unless I’m doing homework or I’m at the gym. So, I never really looked at it that way, but I appreciate all the support I guess. I know that a lot of people support us from a distance.”

Speaking of head coach Wright, the two share a common goal: lead the team to a win night in and night out. What Wright can’t do is coach his team from the floor like Webster does.

“We have a good relationship. I just try to be that extension of a coach when I’m out there on the floor, talk as much as possible, make sure I’m directing traffic and make sure guys are in the right place,” Webster said.

Webster does a great job doing exactly that, and he’ll have to keep that up with all the new faces on the team this season. The Leathernecks welcome three freshmen and four transfer students to the team, but still have most of the same core from last year.

“We have a few new pieces. Transfers obviously, they have some experience with college basketball, so, it’s not as much teaching new concepts to them, so they’ll definitely help,” Webster said. “A lot of defensive guys that are ready to come in and get stops, get big rebounds, play hard. Obviously, the freshmen coming in. Just them being consistent in practice and making sure that they’re learning our concepts.”

Webster has complete confidence in the seven new faces that Western welcomed to the family. It’s not a complete team overhaul, though. The team will still have the same feel from last season with seniors Keshon Montague, Jeremiah Usiosefe, James Claar and C.J. Duff along with sophomores Young and Pyle returning as key members for the Leathernecks.

The Leathernecks have a long five-month, 26-game regular season schedule ahead of them and the road to getting back to The Summit League Tournament starts Tuesday, Nov. 5 at IU.