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Webster weary of the push and pull
Seattle Times staff columnist
These should be the most trouble-free days of Martell Webster's life. His last days of high school. His final fling at being a kid. His most serious decision now should be which video game to play or where to go on a date.
Instead, Webster's life is progressing at warp speed. He is being forced to grow up much faster than most 18-year-olds. And he is learning lessons about the greed and impatience of adults he'd hoped he'd never have to learn.
Earlier this week, Webster, a senior at Seattle Prep who signed a letter of intent with Washington, announced he was going to investigate the possibility of forgoing college and going directly to the NBA.
He hasn't hired an agent, but he is preparing to take the tour of NBA cities to audition in front of the most critical and skeptical eyes in the game.
But while he has been mulling this decision, the extended basketball community, which has helped raise him since his mother, Cora McGuirk, disappeared when he was 4 years old, has become fractious.
And certain members of that community have begun pulling at him like scavengers looking for a treasure.
In the course of researching his decision he has gotten very good advice from some, like former AAU coach Jim Marsh, and very bad advice from others who, he is realizing, have their own agendas.
Webster has found himself in the midst of an unwanted, uncivil war. And, in an exclusive interview this week, he admitted it has made him feel more world-weary than any 18-year-old should have to feel. He is being tugged at, like the pull of the moon on the ocean.
"There's been friction," Webster said, sitting at the head of the table in a conference room of an office in Pioneer Square. "It's not even a smooth ride anymore. It's like I'm getting bumped off left and right. There's all these words and things I'm hearing that are going around. There's a lot of weird things being said right now.
"It's not supposed to be like that. Right now I'm supposed to be having fun. But I can't do that because family is getting in the way. And there's a lot of outside things going on, too, and I'm asking these people, 'Man, what do you think I should do?' I'm so frustrated."
"It comes down to a lot of different people asking me what my decision is and who am I going to make the decision with," he said. "My family would love for me to go to the NBA, but what it comes down to is who [what agent] am I going to go with.
"I read a story where my grandmother [Beulah Walker] said I was rushed into a decision. Never, not at all. I wouldn't rush into a decision. Grandmothers are supposed to be overprotective, and that's what she's doing. She's watching out for me, but she's pretty stressed out right now.
"I just wish people would back off of her a little bit. She wants my best interests, but when it comes to making a decision it will be based on what I feel and not what the rest of my family feels."
Even though he hasn't made any final decisions, you can make book that Webster will enter the NBA draft and that Aaron and Eric Goodwin will be his agents.
"They [the Goodwins] are people I want to stay close to me and eventually sign with," Webster said. "I'm trying to make that clear to my grandmother, who is my angel. Rumors have messed up a lot of things in this whole decision-making process. It's like things will start to get smooth, and then it gets rugged again. It gets to the point where you don't even know where this stuff is coming from. You just think, 'Oh my gosh, who said this? Who would say something like this?' It gets hard, really hard.
"It's giving me mixed emotions. I feel like I've got the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I think if I do this process one step at a time, slowly I'll get my family to understand what I'm about and what decision I'm going to make. It's going to be me making the decision, not anybody else. And when I make it, respect it. Just back me. Keep the love how it is. It's going to be all right."
Sure, there is a chunk of Webster that wants to play in college, to have an experience similar to the one Bremerton's Marvin Williams had last season with NCAA champion North Carolina.
He likes the idea of playing a year at Washington with Brandon Roy and seeing how far into the postseason they could take the Huskies.
But Webster said he feels a responsibility to members of his family and also believes he's ready to test the NBA.
"I never even had the intent of even entering the NBA before this high-school season started," Webster said. "It never really was an option at the start of the year. It kind of jumped out at me after I experienced the McDonald's All-American game.
"Even before I got there I was like, 'There's no possible way I'm going to try to enter the draft.' But afterwards, the NBA scouts told me they liked what they saw and told me some things they said I needed to work on."
He was told what most high-school prodigies are told before they enter the draft. He had to work on his agility because he had to be quicker on defense. He needed work on the mental parts of the game, and he needed to get stronger. And, as good a shooter as he is, he had to work even longer on his shooting every day.
Through the cycle of all-star games, his game got better, from the McDonald's in South Bend, Ind., to the Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis, Tenn., to the Michael Jordan game at Madison Square Garden.
"It seemed like the NBA became more and more interested," Webster said, "and after the Jordan [game] scouts said they really looked forward to my name being entered into the draft. From there I took it as my responsibility to get as good as I can be, so I can be a pretty high pick in the draft.
"I had always intended on going to college. From watching Marvin, he's been an influence on me wanting to go to college. He had a great season, an outstanding season. But from where I sit right now, I feel like the opportunity is mine and I have the chance to get a pretty good pick just like he does."
Another factor in Webster's decision-making process is the negotiations for the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement. There is a good possibility the draft age will be raised to 20.
"I'm at that point now where I have to make a decision solely based on how I feel," said Webster, who should be taken somewhere between the sixth and 15th pick. "And apparently I feel like I want to go to the NBA.
"What it's going to come down to is that's it's only going to be me signing my name on that contract. But what I want is to work this whole thing out so that everyone feels happy. I don't want to leave no grudges. I just want it to be solely, 'Hey, you made a good decision. We back you 100 percent. Now let's go do this.' "
But even he admits his hopes are a bit na´ve.
"I can wish for everybody to be happy," he said. "I can hope for them to be happy. But that doesn't necessarily means it's going to happen. I'll be happy. Maybe I'll wish some things could have been better. I know there's family that's going to press me and say, 'You owe me favors. Give me some money.' But the favors come later, when you're financially stable.
"Look, when I get to the NBA, it's a business, and you can't just sit around and reminisce on the things you wish you had done to make things better. You have to move on. I know that now it's time to become a man. That's just how it is."
Martell Webster is maturing at the speed of sound. He is, at the same time, living in a dream and living in a nightmare. Making some of the most monumental decisions in his life, trying to be the eye in the middle of the hurricane swirling around him.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company