By Tiff Wells.
Fans of a school see the athletes perform on game night and that’s about it. They read up about them in articles, watch videos on social media or peruse the player bios on their schools’ websites. But how do we really get to know about these players? By having them answer the questions first-hand, of course! With college sports underway, just how are UH athletes getting ready? What are they thinking? What do they like? In this Q&A, we hit the hardwood and run the fast break with sophomore guard Justin Webster from UH men’s basketball.
Q: You’re from Dallas, Texas and went to Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, but graduated from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. How did going to Hargrave help you prepare for the Division I level?
It really prepared me for the college lifestyle. By playing a lot of road games, it taught me how to balance school and basketball.
Q: What was the biggest transition for you going from high school basketball to Division I basketball? Has it been easier or harder being away from home now a second time?
The biggest transition I would say is just by how detailed everything is at this level. We run a lot of plays and have many different coverages that you have to understand or you won’t play. So to me, that’s the biggest challenge. Being away from home was never really hard for me my first year here because I had literally just spent a year away from home my senior year. Some of the struggles I had gone through at my prep school, I had already overcome before coming here.
Q: What is your major? What do you eventually want to do with that degree?
I recently just changed my major from business management to communications. Eventually when I’m done with basketball, I want to commentate for ESPN and eventually create my own show.
Q: How do you balance school and basketball, especially when you’re in season?
Just making sure I’m staying organized and not falling behind. It’s important that you jump on top of your school work early so you are not having to stress about playing catch up.
Q: It’s noticeable that you play with a lot of passion and love for the game. What or whom do you attribute that to?
My parents because at an early age they were very hard on me and they kept me focused and never let up on what I said I wanted to achieve.
Q: Your father Jeff was an all-conference player at Oklahoma and a 1994 second-round draft pick of the Miami Heat. How has he helped both you and your sister (Jordan, a freshman guard at UC Riverside) throughout the years?
He really taught us how to play the game the right way. He kept me and my sister grounded because he knew the things we were capable of and the things we wanted to do. He knew how to say no to things we wanted to do that he knew wasn’t good for us. We didn’t understand it at the time, but now that we are older we are very appreciative of it.
Q: Last March, you were in Anaheim getting ready to open versus UC Davis in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals. Take us through that day when you found out the tournament was cancelled, thus ending the 2020 season. What was the morale of the team like? How did you guys process the announcement?
We were all very hurt. We felt like we had a great opportunity to make it all the way to the NCAA Tournament, and we felt like all that was stripped away because of COVID. Nobody could really process it. We were all shocked and couldn’t believe what was happening.
Q: The NCAA gave a November 25th start date for college basketball and UH’s recently announced schedule has your team beginning with a two-game series at home against Cal Poly (Dec. 27 and 28). Just how excited are you for the season to begin? Does it feel like AAU or club ball by playing on back-to-back days?
I’m very excited. It’s been a long time since I last played in a game and I just can’t wait to be out there playing again. You could say it feels like AAU because of the back–to–back days in the Big West schedule, but we will be ready and fresh to go whenever we play.
Q: How does the team look with so many new faces?
The team is really starting to come together. Overall, we are way more athletic than we were last year, and everyone has that mentality to step on the court and be great. We’re all still learning how to play with each other, but each and every practice we’re getting better and better.
Q: How do you stay physically fit and mentally strong during a global pandemic? Just how tough was it to train when the athletic facilities were closed p, and what was your offseason training like?
Initially, it was a lot of working out [at home] just trying to use everything I could to try and stay as physically fit as possible. But then gyms back home in Dallas started opening up and it became easier to work out. Mentally, you have to find ways to think about the things you can do to stay positive each and every day because we are all finding out that mental health is a serious issue especially now more than ever with COVID out in the world. For my offseason training, me and my sister would be working out three times a day, six days a week with Sunday always off.
Q: You had 27 appearances with nine starts as a freshman. You averaged 8.8 points per game, third on the team with 38 3-pointers and averaged 28.4 minutes per game. Personally, how did you feel about your freshman season? And how would you like to improve your game coming into your sophomore season?
Personally, I felt like my freshman season was ok. I felt like I could’ve done much better and I know that. I never felt like I showcased my complete game, but now being a sophomore with a year under my belt I know what to expect and I’m ready to showcase my full potential. Offensively, I know I can score and shoot the ball, so that is not really what I’m focusing on right now. Defense is my main priority right now, and each and every day I’m doing everything I can to be better there.
Q: In your family, who is the best cook? And when you go home, what are a couple of the dishes you request your parents to make?
My mom is the best cook by far, and it’s not even close. My mom is from New Orleans p, so I usually ask her to make some Cajun food and my Pops is very, very good on the grill so I usually request some barbecue ribs or a steak from him.
Q: All UH teams log a ton of airline miles every season. What are the must-have items in your carry-on bag when you board the plane? When on the road, do you have a go-to spot for a meal?
I have to have some type of candy on the plane. Whether it be Hawaiian candy or my special Mike and Ike’s candy, those are very important to me. My go-to meal on the road depends on where we are. But for the most part we always stop at In-n-Out when we land.
Q: What makes it so special to play at Hawai‘i?
The people and the atmosphere. I had never really experienced what it’s like to play in front of thousands of fans and how each fan really loves UH sports. It made me realize that every time I step on the court I want to put on a show and play hard for these people.
Q: Finally, take us through a typical game day, both here at home and on the road.
My pregame ritual involves taking a one- or two-hour nap, eating a box of Mike and Ike’s, and listening to music. I do the same thing every time whether we are on the road or at home. I change nothing.
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