Monday, January 26, 2009

Landon's Webster Looks to Keep Playing It Smart

Landon's Webster Looks to Keep Playing It Smart
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; E01

His 6-foot-7 frame sunken comfortably into a green L-shaped couch in his Logan Circle home, Darryl Webster flipped through a red scrapbook while his son, Christian, peered over his left shoulder.

"Look how skinny I was," Darryl said as he pointed to a full-page spread of the 1982 Washington Post All-Met boys' basketball team.

The former Coolidge star is pictured standing, gripping a basketball and wearing a warmup suit with "Colts" lettered down the left side of his chest. The caption next to his photo reads: "Best post player in the area."

Pictured behind Webster are the rest of that season's first-teamers: Len Bias, Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Jeff Baxter, Doug Turner, Earl Davis, Gary Potts, Michael Jackson and Linwood Davis -- stars whose legends have grown since the click of that camera 27 years ago.

"Is that Coach Amaker?" Christian said as he spotted the teenage version of the man who has been pursuing him for the past two years.

"Tommy's done a really good job," Darryl said. "He's been on him since the start."

Christian Webster, a 6-5 high-scoring guard at Landon, is one of the area's top basketball recruits, drawing interest from Amaker, a former W.T. Woodson star who is now the coach at Harvard, and Dawkins, a former Mackin High standout and Duke assistant who is the first-year coach at Stanford.

Video by B.J. Koubaroulis/The Washington Post

As Christian navigates the recruiting world, his father Darryl, a 44-year-old social worker and community activist, has acted as an experienced guide with one factor taking precedence: education. The push from his father has made Christian consider Ivy League schools over better-known and established college basketball powers that have pursued him.

"I never paid for my education and basketball was the only way I could have gotten educated, and I want him to do the same," said Darryl, who averaged 22 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks per game as a senior at Coolidge, earning a spot in the prestigious Capital Classic all-star game and a scholarship to George Washington. "It all goes by in the blink of an eye. I don't want him to look back and think, 'If I had worked a little harder or gave a little more effort?' I don't want him to look back and have any regrets."

Sitting feet from the mantel on which his grandparents once hung his medals, trophies and awards, Darryl beamed with pride as he described growing up under this same roof with 15 other family members. He described the sense of accomplishment he's felt each time he's made repairs in turning the Q Street Victorian into a gem.

Christian's medals, awards and trophies are now positioned next to Darryl's diplomas on that same mantel.

"He's been everywhere that I want to go," Christian said of his father.

Now the father is leading the son back to some of those same destinations. He rarely misses one of Christian's games, and he watches home contests from the same spot -- the front right corner of the bleachers at Landon. From there, over the past four years, he's watched loudly and passionately as his son has become one of the area's most feared scorers.

Christian, who has a smooth pull-up jumper, soft hands, accuracy from long range and a mature command of the court, is averaging 25.1 points and eight rebounds, helping No. 13 Landon (12-3) to a five-game winning streak headed into tonight's key Interstate Athletic Conference matchup at No. 8 Georgetown Prep (13-3).

A McDonald's all-American finalist, Christian has led the IAC in scoring and rebounding since his sophomore year and has been part of a turnaround that has taken Landon from a three-win season in 2003 to its first Washington Post top 20 ranking in more than a decade.

"The number one strength he's got in his game is that he wants to improve at everything," said Landon Coach Andy Luther, who credited his program as just partially responsible for Christian's development. "He listens to his dad and hangs on every word with an incredible amount of tenacity."

Parked on the Landon bleachers, Darryl Webster shifts between coach, parent, and player -- he calls himself a "hybrid" -- as he questioned his son's defense and offered his own cocked wrist as the example of a perfect follow-through during a recent game against Bullis.

"You have to think of him as two people: One, the loving, caring dad; then you have the basketball dad who's yelling and screaming: 'Come On Christian. Work harder. Extend on your jump shot,' " Christian said. "Both have helped me to get to where I am now, so I can't ask for anything more."

Darryl, who earned his master's degree in social work from Catholic University, returned to Logan Circle in the late 1980s. He often brought drug addicts and other castaways into his home to offer them help, and gained national recognition as a community activist. He was Washingtonian Magazine's "Washingtonian of the Year" in 1988 and USA Today named him one of the country's top community activists in 1989.

Christian grew up in the same neighborhood as his father and has strived to emulate him in more ways than simply on the basketball court. He coaches kids in the Jelleff basketball league, is mentoring several students from Landon's lower school and mentors kids at Kingman Boys & Girls Club.

"Since my dad has played such a huge role in my life, I am blessed to pass on what I have learned to others that do not have this luxury," Christian wrote in his college application essay to Harvard.

Since Christian was in the eighth grade, the family has received a financial aid package from Landon that has helped pay much of the annual $30,000 tuition. If he were to have gone to public school, he likely would be at Cardozo. Instead, he dons a jacket and tie each day for a slightly longer commute to Landon's 75-acre plot nestled between million-dollar homes in Bethesda.

"I took statistics in grad school," Darryl said. "He's taking it in high school."
"The biggest change for me was coming from a predominant black school to like a suburban, I guess you could say, preppy white school," Christian said. "At first, I hated that tie. As soon as the bell rang, I'd take that tie off and ball it up."

"But that tie and that jacket will carry you a long way," Darryl said.

The father is still thumbing through the pages of his red scrapbook, looking over the old news clippings from his playing days. Christian looked up from his sister's pink laptop, where he'd been reading his college entrance essay to Harvard.

"There's really no expectations," Christian said of his future. "Just work hard and stay focused and the chips will fall where they may. My dad always says 'Work hard and everything always works out for itself. Universal Law.' "

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