A shy, baby-faced young man, Webb clearly is seeking the dignity little people always must fight for. "He's a quiet, independent, proud little person," says Stone. "Nineteen is a tough age to be—you don't know if you're a man or a boy. But I don't want to be his father away from home; I don't want to analyze him. You can take the fight out of people if you talk about things too much."
Though he plays with a blank, occasionally scowling expression, Webb is openly responsive to Midland fans, many of whom wear buttons proclaiming, I'M A SPUD NUT. "Of course, children love him," says Poss, "because they can look him in the eye."
But inside that little body burns a big fire. At the student center recently Webb and Smith and two other students played noontime doubles Ping-Pong. On one volley Webb took a ferocious swing at the ball and smashed it, ending the game because there was no other ball to play with. In high school Webb didn't make the varsity basketball team until his senior year. "We could have brought him up from the jayvees earlier," says Homer Smith, the coach at Wilmer-Hutchins High. "It wasn't his height. He was scoring 25 or 30 points a game for the jayvees. But we wanted him to be more of a team player. He could have gotten discouraged or quit. But he's a tremendous worker, very intense, and he made himself into the great player he is."
Over a cafeteria lunch of meat loaf, french fries, white bread and Coke, Webb acknowledges that he's hungry for recognition. "People talk about my dunking and not the other stuff," he says. "I can pass, jump shoot, dribble, lead the team. Maybe they want entertainment, but I want to be known as a good point guard."
And in fact, Webb is a well-rounded, authentic, major college-caliber point guard. Last spring he signed a letter of intent with North Texas State, but decided to come back to Midland and try to improve on his opportunities. "Spud can direct the team, make assists and pass on the break as well as anybody I've seen," says Stone. "The jumping ability is just icing on the cake." Tulane Assistant Coach Mike Richardson, who recently scouted Midland, says Webb is definitely big-time. "Coaches look for big guards, but Spud plays like a big guard," says Richardson. "Plus, opponents want to block his shot so bad, they don't play their normal game. They want to embarrass him and instead they end up embarrassing themselves."
Webb couldn't play well in a slowdown offense or in a laid-back zone defense. "He needs to be in a transition-type game. Running, moving around," says Richardson. That's how Stone uses Webb, allowing him to roam about both on offense and defense, creating havoc with his speed, timing and spring. "I mean, just imagine you're a six-seven forward and this little guy comes out of nowhere and blocks your shot," says Stone. "That's going to affect you."
With clearouts and screens Spud can score almost anytime he gets the ball—in the national finals last season four guards fouled out in four games trying to cover him. "He could average 40 a game if we went to him all the time," says Stone. "But that wouldn't be good for him or the team." This season, if teams mob Webb at the point, Stone says he'll even move him down to the low post! Does that mean Midland will set up alley-oop passes for Webb to ram home, a la David Thompson? "Yep," says the coach.
When Stone was recruiting Webb, it wasn't really Webb's height that worried Stone—he'd had success with other small guards at Midland—it was Spud's fragile build and babyish appearance. There is a 1978 calendar behind the cash register at Webb's Soul Market, which is just around the corner from the Cotton Bowl, and on the calendar is a portrait of the Webb family—five of the six kids, Mom and Dad. Spud, age 15, looks maybe nine. Bean says he recently found some photos of Spud at an even earlier age, dunking on a 6½-foot basket in the garage, smiling out at the camera and looking like a toddler.
Clearly, it's dangerous for anyone so small to constantly go so high. In recent years Webb has hit his head, neck and shoulder on the bottom of the backboard. Last summer he was undercut while dunking at a Dallas gym and fell on his side, injuring his neck and right knee. "That's why I hang on the rim," Webb says. "To protect myself."
Stone's concerns about Webb's toughness—"You know, he only wears a size-7½ shoe," says the coach—were alleviated by two things that happened early last season. One occurred when a reporter asked Webb why he insisted upon driving in among "all that tall timber." "Because that's where the basket is," Webb replied. The other happened after Spud was steamrollered while taking a charge in a defensive drill, knocking a couple of his teeth through the skin below his lower lip. "I wondered what to think," Stone recalls. "How was he going to react?" The next day Webb was back at practice, stitches in mouth, taking charges.