Harshman still keeps an eye on Welp. He was there when Welp scored his 40 points against UCLA. "I think he's capable of quite a few nights like that," says Harshman. "He's become a little more aggressive, though probably most people can't tell. He's more of a finesse player, which is rare these days. He's the best-equipped center I've ever had."
Welp has worked hard on his conditioning this season and, with an eye on the NBA, will be lifting weights through the spring and summer. "I'm going to be his weight coach and get him up in the morning," says Damon. "He realizes that this is his last year in college, and if he's going to be a force in the pros he's got to hit the weight room, put on 25, 30 pounds of upper-body muscle, and come out and knock some guys around. In college he hasn't needed to get physical. He's been able to rebound over a guy and take the shortcuts."
But Welp has a history of foul trouble. In his 3½ seasons at Washington he has committed 402 fouls and fouled out 25 times; the former is a Husky record and the latter is close. Despite his uneven playing, Russo sees improvement. "He's a much better defensive player than when I first got here," says Russo. "He didn't understand defensive positioning when his man didn't have the ball. He played behind, let his man catch the ball and then tried to block it. His foul trouble is magnified because when he fouls out, we lose a lot. So we have to take him out with two fouls."
Even when Welp is in the game, Russo would like to get more out of him. The coach was upset this fall when Welp let it be known he didn't want to be team captain. "I couldn't believe that a guy who was going to get so much out of playing basketball didn't have the courage to give something back," Russo said.
"When things aren't going right," Welp says, "the captain is supposed to really get on the players. I felt I couldn't do a good job of that. I feel I can lead by example."
One of Welp's examples was set last season when he strolled back to the bench during an on-court brawl in a game against Montana. Welp saw the fight as a chance for him to rest while the players duked it out on the floor. Says the loyal Damon, "I think if I had been Chris, I would have played it safe, too. I mean, he might have broken a hand or a leg or something. He's got a lot more on the line than most of the other guys out there on the floor."
When the NBA lays it on the line, Welp hopes to play for a West Coast team. As Welp talked in his apartment about the future, the door opened and in walked Marni. She is wearing the diamond ring Chris gave her last June, although he says they're not engaged. "It's unofficially official," says Marni. Still, she is planning to leave school (she's a German major, of course) a year early, when Welp does, and follow him to whichever NBA city he ends up in. "We're both still young, and we don't want to jump into anything. But we're a step closer than most people."
All told, it hasn't been a bad sojourn in the U.S. for a guy who had planned to stay just one year. Which is only as it should be in the land of the free and the home of the NBA.