Tai Webster was supposed to be Nebraska’s secret.
But then something funny happened.
The New Zealand point guard, at age 17, made his country’s national team.
Then the 6-foot-2 Webster started scoring 20 points against teams like Greece and Angola in FIBA Olympic qualifying play.
Suddenly, Webster wasn’t a secret anymore. And Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman, an Australia native who’d been in on Webster since Harriman was an assistant last season at Saint Louis, had a problem.
Several problems, really. Namely, LSU, Virginia, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Saint Mary’s. All had caught notice of Webster and were honing in.
Webster offered an easy solution. On Tuesday, he committed to Nebraska, becoming a key member of coach Tim Miles’ 2013 recruiting class.
“This is a definite coup for the Huskers,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said in a phone interview with the Journal Star.
Fraschilla said he watched tapes of all of Webster’s Olympic qualifying games, and has kept tabs on Webster through friends in New Zealand.
If Webster was playing in the Unites States, Fraschilla said, he’d be a Top 25 recruit.
“I’d be shocked if there were 25 better 17-year-old players in the States than this kid,” Fraschilla said.
Webster is believed to be the youngest player to ever make the New Zealand national team. He averaged 13.5 points in Olympic qualifying play while shooting 52.5 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent from three-point range.
Webster’s club team, the Auckland Pirates, advanced to the Under-19 New Zealand National League championship final, a game in which Webster scored 42 points.
But the key for Webster, Fraschilla said, is what he did in July in Venezuela.
“I mean, you’re talking about some really great teams. Some high-level, NBA types, European professional players,” Fraschilla said. “The young man acquitted himself well. Really well.”
Fraschilla described Webster as a strong, powerful guard who’s able to get to the rim.
“He’s a throwback in that he’s not a point or a two, he’s a guard,” Fraschilla said. “He can score, he can drive, he’s strong, he can make the three, pass it. He’s a 6-2 guard that’s multi-skilled. He’s a skilled player. He’s not just an athlete.”
Webster’s father, Tony Webster, played collegiately at Hawaii. The younger Webster attends Westlake High School in Auckland, and will graduate in November.
He’s scheduled for his official visit to Nebraska later in November — the same month the early signing period begins — but his plan after that isn’t certain. One possibility is for Webster to play at a prep school in the United States for one semester, beginning in January, and then join the Huskers.
Webster is the third player to commit to Nebraska in the last 11 days, joining Wisconsin shooting guard Nick Fuller and Texas combo guard Nathan Hawkins. That leaves two vacant scholarships for Miles’ 2013 class.
“He’ll have to explain to other recruits how good Tai really is,” Fraschilla said, referring to Miles. “The kids that he’s recruiting won’t really know how good Tai is until they see him on campus, whenever.”
Miles confirmed that guard Deverell Biggs began taking classes at Nebraska on Tuesday, meaning the junior college transfer is eligible for participation. Miles said there’s been no change in Biggs’ decision to redshirt and sit out this season. Biggs has three seasons to use two years of eligibility.