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•The language. Having studied formal Oxford English for four years in Osnabrück, Welp had a spot of trouble with the American version spoken by some of his acquaintances. After a coach at Washington chewed out the players one day for not talking to each other on defense, one teammate shouted, "I don't hear nobody saying nothing!" Welp pondered the triple negative for a moment, then offered, "Well, that's one way of saying it."
•Cruising. "I asked somebody what was going on, I thought a movie had let out or something," says Welp. "The first couple of times I went cruising I felt kind of uncomfortable. But I enjoyed it. There's nothing like it in all of Europe because you don't have the same kind of street structure. There are no blocks. You could drive for miles in Germany and not come back to the same spot."
•American beer. "You can get used to it."
Has he adjusted? Well, how German can a guy be who drives a 1979 Ford Bronco, likes Gary Larson cartoons and enjoys hitting fungoes to the Hansel dogs in the backyard?
In his very first game at Olympic he scored 28 points and grabbed 28 rebounds in a 75-56 walloping of Bremerton. Olympic lost just one game that season, and Welp led the Trojans to the state AA title, their first ever.
Even before Welp's American high school debut, Marv Harshman, then the coach at Washington, knew about him from Husky forward Detlef Schrempf. Schrempf had met Welp two years earlier at a German national junior team competition in Bulgaria. (See how these Germans get around?) And though Harshman had not yet seen Welp play, he invited him to a Washington football game soon after the young German arrived. "I was only here about a week and a half," says Welp, "when I got my recruiting trip to the University of Washington." Two months later, before Chris had played a game at Olympic—and before any other college had heard of him—he signed a letter of intent with Washington. "They got me for the price of the ferry ticket from Bremerton," he says. That would be $3.20.
Welp joined the 6'9" Schrempf in the fall of '83 and together they formed the so-called Berlin Wall that led the Huskies to the Pac-10 title in both '83-84 and '84-85. Welp won the conference's Rookie of the Year award but languished in the shadow of Schrempf, a fierce competitor who would play an intramural game in the morning, a Pac-10 game in the afternoon and more pickup ball at night. That wasn't Welp's idea of fun.
He is a much more cosmopolitan guy, interested in wildlife photography, hunting, camping, scuba diving, auto racing, studying for his major in graphic design or just spending time with his live-in girlfriend, Marni Getchell, a Washington junior. What would seem to be perfectly normal behavior for an undergraduate is quite out of the ordinary for a 7-foot basketball player with hopes of an NBA career. His diverse interests and reserved ways earned Welp a bad rep. "He's talented," said Ralph Klein, the coach of the West German team, in 1984, "but lazy."
Welp's reputation for being uninvolved, unemotional and uncommitted has followed him across the basketball courts of America. Two years ago, when both Harshman and Schrempf left the Huskies—Harshman for retirement, Schrempf for the Dallas Mavericks—Russo, the new coach, was forced to restructure the team around Welp. Russo came on like a Prussian general; he put the team through a punishing conditioning program and established strict rules, for example, requiring jackets and ties on planes. Even today, Russo will walk by the training table and knock the hat off any player wearing one, with the admonition: "Now, your mom wouldn't let you wear a hat at the table, would she?"
He was equally brusque and sometimes sarcastic in practice. "I don't have time to sit down and hug 'em up and explain things to them," Russo says. "I'm sure they all walk around wondering why I'm doing this, but years from now they'll be doing the same thing to someone else. If you can make them understand that you're doing it to make them better and not because you're picking on them, well, that's a very hard thing for kids to understand." It was something of a shock to Welp and the other veteran Huskies, after the low-key Harshman. "He was like a father to us," says Clay Damon, a senior guard and Welp's good friend. "He was one of the main reasons Chris came to Washington."