Tai Webster: New Zealander Basketball's Next Top International Prospect

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIJuly 11, 2012

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 27:  Pirates players and staff celebrate with the winners' trophy after winning the NBL final between the Wellington Saints and the Auckland Pirates at TSB Bank Arena on May 27, 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

You may not have heard of him just yet. He remains one of the most under-hyped prospects in basketball. But Tai Webster certainly knows how to play and if what he has shown thus far is anything to go by, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him lighting up your television screens sooner rather than later.

At just 17-years-old, the 6'2" New Zealand guard is the youngest player to ever represent his country's national team, the Tall Blacks. Regarded by many as a surprise selection but definitely an investment in the future, Webster was expected to play somewhat of a development role while many of the team's more established players recovered from injury. 

This was all thrown out the window though, when he scored eight points in just 12 minutes in his international debut against Brazil. In this he shot four from five from the field and put on a good show, living up to all expectations.

He would then show his true worth a day later, scoring 18 points against Greece, shooting three for three from beyond the arc, putting on an outstanding display. By this point there were few questioning his selection, but he kept moving upwards as the Olympic Qualifying tournament began. 

Here he had a quieter start to the tournament, scoring six points while dishing two assists. This came against Macedonia, where he was matched up with Italian League MVP and All-Euroleague Second Teamer, Bo McCalebb. 

In his final game of the tournament he was dominant, leading the way with 21 points and grabbing three rebounds in just 24 minutes, as he helped his side to a win over Angola. After missing a three point attempt in the first minute of the game, he went on to make his next five, finishing five from six from beyond the arc this time. 

To do this at this age is impressive to say the least, showing he is capable of playing against international quality players at just 17-years-old.

He is an explosive player, with a very good skill set and has the ability to get to the hoop. His finishing ability is outstanding too, capable of putting the ball in the hoop after having taken contact on a regular basis. These attributes have made him such a hard player to guard in New Zealand, where he has stood out right through the age grade competitions.

What he showed in his stint with the Tall Blacks though, was that he can complement this with a strong outside shooting game. At the Olympic Qualifying tournament he shot 62.5 percent from the three point line, finishing fourth for three point percentage in the tournament, whilst also finishing 16th in the scoring leaders.

Possessing these abilities makes him a dangerous player and a real threat to opposition teams. But what really sells him as a legitimate prospect comes in the fact that he has done it at a high level that few other 17-year-old's would able to shine at.

New Zealand may not have the history of producing the basketball superstars some other international countries have, but don't count that against him. This is changing as the sport continues to grow in the country and quality is beginning to be seen. Last years high school class produced top NBA prospect Steven Adams.

Webster undoubtedly is a star in the making, and has the potential to make it big should he take his opportunities.

So you may ask, could Webster be as good as Steven Adams? 

That might be understatement, he could very well be better.