From sitting deep on the Boise State bench to yoga on the beach with LeBron James, it has been an astonishing year for James Webb III.
His tenacity and varied skill set have placed him firmly on the NBA radar. At the same time, it is exciting and daunting for the 6-foot-9 junior forward, the Broncos’ best pro prospect in nearly two decades.
“I know that everybody’s watching,” Webb said. “... It’s a lot of pressure, but then again, it’s not.”
Opponents are focused on stopping the high-flying, high-energy Webb, which the Augusta, Ga., native doesn’t mind as much. He’s accepted it as part of his growth, often noting it will help him find open teammates.
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The Mountain West Newcomer of the Year has new-found acquaintances as he has ascended rapidly among college basketball’s best talents, and that’s the part that makes him uncomfortable.
“It can be overwhelming when you get calls from people you don’t know that know you somehow, trying to figure out what they want from you,” Webb said.
In September, Boise State coach Leon Rice said, “That’s going to be a big key to how he performs, how he handles all that.”
He followed up 27 points at No. 11 Arizona last Thursday with 13 rebounds in 19 minutes Monday against Concordia (Ore.).
“I think he’s done a great job,” Rice said after the Concordia game. “The thing with guys like that is they can’t hear a bunch of outside voices confusing them on what makes them good, what they need to do ... James has had a great attitude about that; he’s all about the team. I haven’t seen any energy dropoff.”
During the summer, Webb changed his phone number as the messages piled up. His social media accounts were deleted.
“I try to keep all that to the side, not focus on it,” Webb said. “We still have a mission: We’re trying to win the Mountain West.
“I’d rather not see it, not know about it than see it and get big-headed from it.”
When Webb and the Broncos take the floor Thursday against UC Irvine to open the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, Calif., it marks 363 days since he got his first real shot at showcasing his considerable skill.
After playing just 13 minutes without scoring in Boise State’s first five games last season, he had 12 points in 14 minutes at North Carolina State on Nov. 28, 2014.
Including that game, he’s averaged 15.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as a regular in the Broncos’ lineup. He’s shot 54.2 percent from the field, including 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
“I knew that James Webb was good. My brother (Dayton coach Archie Miller) played against them last year in the NCAA Tournament, and told me he thought he was an NBA player,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I echo the sentiment. In our game, the college game, I don’t know if there’s a player at his position he can’t stand toe-to-toe with. He does everything.”
The 27 points Webb scored against the Wildcats got plenty of attention.
He will have many eyes on him again during Boise State’s three games in four days in the Wooden Legacy, during which the Broncos could also face No. 3 Michigan State and Arizona again — more than 40 NBA scouts have been credentialed.
“He’s definitely stepped up, that’s always super hard to do when people are like, ‘What’s James Webb going to do tonight?’ ” sophomore guard Chandler Hutchison said. “Different agents talking to him, he’s been calm, cool and collected through it all. He never gets a big head over things that are happening when he plays a great game, just like he did at Arizona. You can learn from that, learn from him, how he’s experienced that. ... He’s been a great leader through this process.”
Boise State has had only six players drafted in its history, none in the first round, and none selected since Roberto Bergersen in 1999. In an NBA that requires top-level athletes, especially ones who can play above the rim and shoot from outside, Webb fits the bill.
“I played in the ACC, I played against a lot of athletes at North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, but athleticism-wise, I think he’d be the most athletic in the ACC,” said Boise State senior guard Lonnie Jackson, a Boston College transfer.
This summer, Webb was one of 20 college players invited to the Nike Basketball Academy in California. There, he played against Anthony Davis, learned how to keep the body healthy (and those beach yoga lessons) from James and got pep talks from the likes of Kobe Bryant. Webb learned all about the NBA lifestyle “without the payment,” he said with a wry smile.
Perhaps the biggest thing he took from it, he said, was something that has carried him this season on and off the floor as he continues to make a name for himself.
“Having confidence in your game, not worrying about what they’re giving you or who is in front of you,” he said.
Wooden Legacy overview
Thursday and Friday at Titan Gym (Fullerton, Calif.); Sunday at the Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
▪ Thursday, 2 p.m. MT (ESPNU): Boise State vs. UC Irvine
ABOUT THE ANTEATERS: Off to a 4-0 start, they are led by junior guard Luke Nelson’s 16.0 ppg, but also present one of the more unique challenges in the sport: 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.3 bpg).
▪ If Boise State wins, it will play at 3:30 p.m. MT Friday on ESPN2. If Boise State loses, it will play at 1 p.m. MT Friday on ESPN3. The Broncos will face the winner or loser of Thursday’s Michigan State-Boston College game.
ABOUT THE SPARTANS: Ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and again full of talent, led by superb senior guard Denzel Valentine, who is nearly averaging a triple-double (15.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 9.8 apg). MSU is No. 1 in rebound margin (plus-23.8 per game).
ABOUT THE EAGLES: Under second-year coach Jim Christian, the Eagles are 3-0, allowing 54 ppg. Senior guard Eli Carter, who played at Florida and Rutgers, leads with 18.7 ppg. Boise State senior Lonnie Jackson is a BC transfer.
▪ Sunday’s games are played at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The first is the fifth-place game, then the third-place game, the seventh-place game and then the championship game to end the night. The third-place and championship games will be televised on ESPN2, the other two on ESPNU.
▪ Boise State will play either No. 11 Arizona (4-0), Providence (4-0), Evansville (3-0) or Santa Clara (0-5) on Sunday.
Broncos in the NBA
Played in the league
- Coby Karl: Lakers (2007-08), Cavaliers (2009), Warriors (2010), Nuggets (2010)
- John Coker: Suns (1995-96), Wizards (1998-99), Warriors (2000-01)
- Chris Childs: Nets (1994-96), Knicks (1996-2001), Raptors (2001-02), Nets (2002-03)
Last draft pick
- Roberto Bergersen: Hawks (second round, 1999)