Herman Webster takes the basketball court the way Marvin Hagler takes the ring. He is as all-business as they come. His icy stare--made all the more imposing by a body that appears to be chiseled in granite--tells you he isn't out there to make any friends.
It's all part of the intensity Webster, Cal State Fullerton's senior center, tries to bring with him into every game. But there are some games, Webster says, that just seem to bring out the best. Webster will play one such game tonight, when the Titans visit Thomas and Mack Center to play top-ranked Nevada Las Vegas.
For Webster, there is more to this game than just an opportunity to play giant killer. Webster once had visions of playing for Las Vegas, but the Rebels were hardly runnin' folks over to get to him. Webster expressed an interest in going to UNLV when he was playing at San Diego Mesa College, but it became apparent that he was not in Coach Jerry Tarkanian's recruiting plans. It was a case of "Don't call us, we'll call you," and Webster was never called.
Webster related the story of how Las Vegas passed him by after Fullerton's 73-65 loss to the Runnin' Rebels Jan. 19.
"All through high school and JC ball, I thought UNLV was great," he said. "They had that great nickname, the Runnin' Rebels. In my sophomore year, I notified Vegas and had an assistant coach talk to them, but they never got back. I guess they weren't impressed.
"So now I try to build to Vegas with each game. I want to stand out. I want Tark to know I'm a player."
Webster insists that it's not revenge. It's more a matter of pride.
"It's not like I'm looking to prove something, but I always want to do my best against Vegas," he said. "It gets my intensity up. Not that I'm not ready for every game, but when I play against Vegas there's always that little something more . . . that little extra edge."
This added motivation has produced favorable results. The last time Webster played in the Thomas and Mack Center, he made 10 of 16 shots from the field, scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds. He had 15 points and 5 rebounds in the Titans' 75-65 loss to UNLV in the semifinals of the PCAA Tournament last season. And, when the teams last met, he made 6 of 8 shots, scored 18 points and had 5 rebounds.
Such statistics have been difficult to come by this season because Fullerton's team captain has found little room to work inside. Titan opponents have found that they can afford to drop an extra defender or two inside to prevent Webster from getting the ball because of Fullerton's lack of outside shooters.
"The problem, particularly in the 12 conference games, is that there have been as many as 2 1/2 people on Webster," Titan Coach George McQuarn said. "You can imagine how difficult it is. Herman's only 6-6. We're very limited in terms of how many ways we can get the ball inside to Herman from the perimeter."
Last season, when Webster rather quietly worked his way from the end of the Titans' bench to the heart of their offense, it was easier. He led the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. in field-goal percentage by making 87 of 136 shots in conference play (64%) and averaged 20.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last six games of the regular season. That success has brought increased coverage this season.
"Last year, I was kind of a sleeper," Webster said. "No one knew about me. I liked it like that. Now it's kind of frustrating, I have to admit. I'm not scoring the points I was scoring last year."
Said McQuarn: "I like to describe guys like Herman, (forward) Henry Turner, (former guard) Kevin Henderson, guys who came in with little or no credentials at all, as products of the program. They're not walk-ons, but they're close. You really haven't recruited them. You didn't have to outrecruit anybody to get them."
Webster would like to think there should have been more interest in his talents than there was. Tonight, he gets another opportunity to prove it.