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Virginia Tech assistant basketball coach Christian Webster had a standout career at Landon School in Bethesda, and his roots in the area go even deeper than that. His father, Darryl, was a hoops star at Coolidge High School, then collegiately at the George Washington University, and he still lives in the District as a social worker. In college, the younger Webster ended up playing for another D.C. area native, Tommy Amaker, at Harvard.
But through it all, Webster never thought he’d be a basketball coach.
“I was going to play overseas,” Webster tells City Paper. “I was planning on going over there, getting an agent, and trying to see how far I could go with that.”
Fate intervened when two assistant coaches left Harvard, and Amaker offered Webster a chance to fill one of those spots. He took it.
This week, Webster is back in his hometown as part of the Virginia Tech men’s basketball coaching staff. The Hokies are in the NCAA tournament’s east regional finals, where they’ll take on Zion Williamson and the top-seeded Duke team tonight in the Sweet 16 at Capital One Arena.
“I never thought I was gonna coach,” Webster says. “I never dreamed about it, but since I’ve gotten in … had some success doing it, recruiting, developing these guys on and off the court, it’s just been a lot of fun, and I think I’ve found my passion.”
He joined Buzz Williams’ staff at Virginia Tech in 2016 after a short-lived tenure at the University of Central Florida, which lasted just a year before the entire staff got fired. It started with a text message.
“For literally three months I was looking for a job, somehow got [Williams’] number … sent him a really long text just to see if he would have any interest in me, my background, who I was, where I’m from,” Webster recalls. “He started immediately texting me back. Once I saw those three bubbles pop up on the iPhone I was like ‘oh crap, we’ve got action’ … It’s crazy because Buzz says I’m the only guy he’s ever hired that he didn’t know.”
Being the young guy on the Hokies’ staff comes with some advantages, like relating better with players. In the summer of 2017, the National Basketball Coaches Association named Webster as a “30-under-30” honoree.
“We give him a certain respect because obviously he’s an authority on the team, but I think his understanding of us is better than any of a lot of coaches in the country,” says Kerry Blackshear Jr., the team’s second-leading scorer. “He works out with us, he works us out. … He was the lead recruiter for some of the people here. The relationship is a little different … It’s just great being in proximity to somebody who’s in a position you might want to be in someday.”
But being the young guy also presents challenges. Webster feels that others see him as “just a recruiter,” and he feels a strong need to prove himself.
“I know how to coach, I know how to draw up a play,” he says. “I know how to motivate someone to do well on the court.”
Webster acknowledges this labeling can disproportionately affect black coaches. Few end up in the head coaching ranks.
“Right now there are no black head coaches in the Pac-12,” he points out. “[Looking at the Power Five conferences], it’s just six or seven out of 65, so for a young African-American guy like myself to have opportunities like this, it means a lot.”
Webster has continued to stay involved with his communities. His father keeps him connected to volunteer opportunities in the area, like the Kingman Boys and Girls Club in Northwest D.C., and in Blacksburg, Virginia, he helps out with Buzz’s Bunch, Williams’ non-profit that serves special needs children.
“Being involved with that has been really cool, especially with my dad having a background with special needs kids,” Webster says.
Webster, the 2009 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year, is responsible for recruiting in the D.C. area, one of the nation’s best recruiting territories.
“It’s pretty cool, recruiting with [coaches] that coached me in different all-star games and different times when I was a player in high school,” he says. “It just helps, being familiar with those faces, having relationships here in the city.”
Webster hopes to eventually shed the “recruiter” label, but understands he may have an easier time than many of his colleagues in building relationships with prospects and their families because of his connections to the area.
“He’s the first one that contacted me [in the recruiting process],” says Virginia Tech guard Wabissa Bede. “Ever since then he took care of me … any little thing he’s there … He helps me out a lot. He calls my mom a lot, he has a great relationship with [my family]. They love him.”
Though he played a role on some successful teams at Harvard, the run to the Sweet 16 with Virginia Tech is the farthest he’s been in the NCAA tournament. This isn’t the path he expected, but now Webster is positioned to reach a new goal: to become a head coach.
“I would love to be the next guy,” he says. “But who knows what the future holds.”