Unfortunately for Webster's image the eyes show just a tiny twinkle behind the former ballplayer’s bravado, a sign Dad isn’t being en-tire-ly accurate. There’s another word for it.
The truth eventually begins to emerge as Horatio Webster talks about the growth and development of his son. A son who just happens to be the most-sought Mississippi basketball recruit in a decade, and who Friday made public his intention to play where Pop did. The commitment and partial-signing of Malik Newman earns headlines everywhere basketballs bounce.
It also has media talking to the father. Who by chance happens to be speaking with somebody who covered him back in his own Bulldog days, and thus knows better than to buy the ‘never’ claim. Pressed, Webster can only smile. “I started letting him win a little bit, I wanted to keep him coming back! It was time for me to retire, as part of his development process!”
Newman himself can’t remember exactly his first victory. “I think it was when his knees started wearing out!” said the son, who enjoyed all the more Dad’s contention he was only trying “to keep his confidence up.”
The signing of Malik Newman is about the best boost to Bulldog basketball confidence possible. It also provides a fine legacy story. Webster wrote one chapter as an All-Southeastern Conference forward in the 1990s. A couple of decades later, Newman will write his own.
“I’m a proud father,” said Webster. “Just because he went somewhere he wanted to be, it just so happened to be the school I went to. So it’s a great day to be a Bulldog.”
Newman, regarded as one of if not the top point guard prospect in high school basketball this year, signed scholarship papers with State on Friday. He has not inked a national letter of intent, by choice, which leaves new MSU Coach Ben Howland a little more ‘recruiting’ to complete. Newman is bound to attend State though if he stays in the Southeastern Conference.
Webster said the aid papers were actually signed before the first of Friday’s public ceremonies, at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. The public commitment to MSU was made in a venue where Newman almost certainly will someday find himself enshrined, if only for a record-setting career at Callaway High School.
Later at CHS, Newman met with media, hugged everyone in reach, and generally celebrated. The father just enjoyed it all. And, the end of a long recruiting process. As proud as he was to have Newman pick the alma mater, Webster was maybe prouder how his son was his own man making the choice.
“That’s the main thing. It happened to work out that he chose the school I went to. But I just wanted to see him happy, that was my main goal. Had he told me anywhere I would have been excited for him.”
On signing day many a star player’s pop will claim they had game back in their own day. This dad, now, he has credentials to back up all claims. Not for nothing is he fondly remembered in Humphrey Coliseum as the Big Train.
Webster lettered in both 1997 and ’98 for Coach Richard Williams and each time was voted All-Southeastern Conference as well as league Newcomer of the Year as a junior. He had a career senior college scoring average of 16.6 points, falling just 23 points short of 1,000 in his 59 games…all of them starts. The Durant, Miss., native played at Connors State College in Oklahoma and was twice a junior college All-American.
Back at Durant High, Webster was a two-time All-State as twice he led the Tigers to state 1A championships. In that the son trumped Dad, with multiple titles as well as being the first three-time Mr. Basketball for Mississippi by the Jackson Clarion Ledger.
Now, any man who played ball at any level looks for signs a son—or now daughter, too—might follow in the sneaker-steps. Webster saw them pretty early in Malik.
“Maybe at the age of seven years old, I could tell he was going to be special. He was doing things that a little kid shouldn’t have been able to do. Just the way he shot the ball, the passion he had, the time he was spending working on basketball. He never played with toys, he always wanted a basketball in his hand.”
Of course Malik was and will be a guard. As the Big Train nickname reminds, Horatio was a power player. Size made him easy to ID for basketball talent scouts. But what Webster went through as a high school and junior college prospect can’t compare to the spotlight Newman has lived in since pre-teen age.
To his credit Newman handled the glare with poise all along. Nor did he take anything for granted, said Webster. “That’s the great thing, once he got there he never left. Once he got on the scene we never said ‘whatever happened to that Newman kid?’ Because he continued to work and get better each and every year.”
Its well-known that all winter Newman was courted by national powers and regional rivals. Maybe he might have eventually signed-on with a struggling Mississippi State program anyway. But the March 21 hiring of Ben Howland put Bulldog basketball back in the forefront for this all-important race.
Webster knows a thing or two about college coaches, obviously. He was not at all surprised that as soon as Howland passed the NCAA’s mandatory recruiting rules test, the first call was to Newman.
In fact, “I think the day he answered the last question he had his phone in one hand. He might have pushed the button to call!” Exactly a month later, it was Howland who got the final in-home visit with the nation’s preeminent un-signed guard. Yes, Wednesday was a signal of sorts how the score stood with signing time coming.
“He and Malik set it up like that,” Webster said. “I had nothing to do with that. Malik told him to come back and see him one more time, he wanted to talk to him and everything went great.”
By the same token, Dad expects things to go great in this new Bulldog partnership. Howland made an impression on more than the prospect.
“I love him. His resume speaks for itself,” Webster said. “I’m excited I can put my son in the hands of somebody like that, that I know I can sleep at night knowing Coach Howland is going to work his fanny off!”
Hearing this Newman only smiled at the prospect of hard work ahead. The newest Dog-to-be knows he is joining a roster that hasn’t won a lot of games but has survived some really hard times and developed a team toughness. There are also enough skills and experiences among MSU veterans that a new quarterback can take charge of and turn into a contender. Or better.
Webster saw a familiar sideline-face at the announcement event. His MSU coach turned out. As part of State’s broadcast crew it falls to Williams to talk about one of his player’s pups.
“He said he can’t wait to do radio this year!” Webster said. For his part Dad can tell Son that he’s fortunate Williams will only be talking into a mike, not at practice. “He’s heard the horror stories!”
Webster and family can finally relax now that the process of signing and, hopefully, enrolling is taken care of. Well, they can relax. For Malik the work-load remains and even increases. “He can’t stop now,” Dad said. “Because Mississippi is depending on him.”
Oh, and for the record, however the one-on-one score has changed over recent years…the Big Train can still post his boy up.
“Any day, all day!”