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First, the nickname. Spud. Apparently, as in potato. With a last name of Webb you might expect Spider or Tangled. But it's plain old Spud, or in West Texasese, "SPU-uhd," as in, "Ask SPU-uhd if he wants white gravy on his chicken-fried steak, Joe Bob." Spud's older brother, David, is known as Bean. It's intriguing to think for a moment of a family named exclusively after vegetables, but this isn't the case.
"When I was born, my head looked like a bean so they called me Beanhead," says 22-year-old David, who works in the family store, Webb's Soul Market, in Dallas. Bean notes that his three sisters and his other brother, Reginald, have no nicknames. "But Spud isn't named after a potato. I know people think that. When he was born, see, he had this big ol' bald head. People called him Sputnik-head, after that satellite the Russians put in orbit. That's where Spud comes from. But now, when Spud jumps, he really is in orbit."
Second, some stats. Spud (given name Anthony) is a 19-year-old sophomore at Midland College, a two-year school in Midland, Texas, a thriving oil town 325 miles west of Dallas. Midland won the National Junior College Athletic Association Championship in Hutchinson, Kan., last March, beating No. 1-ranked and previously unbeaten Miami-Dade North of Florida 93-88 in the finals in double overtime. Webb led all scorers in that game with 36 points, making 10 of 15 shots from the floor and 16 of 18 from the free-throw line.
For the season he averaged 21 points and 7.1 assists. He also had 77 rebounds, 20 blocked shots and two goaltending violations. Moreover, he had approximately—approximately, because no one has gone back and reviewed every minute of every Midland game tape, but people like Athletic Director Delnor Poss and Sports Information Director H.A. Tuck keep pretty good track of these things—40 dunks last season, a few of the slam persuasion. Webb was named the MVP of the NJCAA Region V tournament and the winner of the Bud Obee Most Outstanding Small Player Award in the national finals. Where the line of demarcation for small player ends and for normal or large player begins is unclear. But one thing is certain: Spud Webb is a small player. Midland's assistant coach, Reggie Franklin, weighed Webb after a recent practice, and he tipped in at 132 pounds. This reporter personally measured Webb against the Midland College gym wall and found him to be an armadillo hair under 5'6".
But what about those dunks, you say. Forty of them? Yes. Approximately. There may have been more, of course. One of them came in the first game of the final round of the NJCAA tournament. It was against Westark College of Arkansas, the defending champ, in the second half. Midland had the lead, but Westark was coming back when Webb stole a pass, raced downcourt and rose and jammed the ball viciously through the rim with a righthanded tomahawk. "The crowd went berserk," says Midland Coach Jerry Stone. "Before that, Spud was a rumor; after it, he was real. The screaming didn't stop until we won the championship four days later."
Two goaltends? Indeed. One was your garden-variety, descending-arc, get-rid-of-that-thing swat, but the other was a remarkable, perhaps even improperly called, orbiting-satellite nullification that had to be seen to be believed. Webb did it in a home game against Western Texas College on a breakaway. The shooter jumped high and laid the ball up toward a spot on the glass far above the rim. Webb came from nowhere to fly up cleanly over the opponent's back, leaning forward as he flew, one arm ahead, one at his side, like some kind of arrow or dwarf missile or elongated spud. With a bat of his hand he knocked the ball out of the air after it hit the backboard.
It's hard to tell from a videotape what the crowd did after that move, though it appears nobody breathed for at least two seconds. Franklin played basketball at SMU and later with the Harlem Globetrotters, but he says he has never seen a player as exciting, as springy, as Spud. "Every day he amazes me," says Franklin. "I've already told one of the Globetrotters about him."
Perhaps the only person who doesn't freak out when Webb takes off is teammate Chester Smith, a 6'7" forward who was a varsity player at Wilmer-Hutchins High School in Dallas when Webb was a jayvee. Along with Webb and 6'9" Center Ernest Harris, Smith is one of the reasons Midland is considered a decent bet to repeat as national junior college champion. "Spud and I used to go to Highland Hills Gym, a rec center in Oak Cliff," says Smith. "And when he first dunked—I think it was the summer after he was in 11th grade—everybody was surprised. But I wasn't. I knew he could jump. I just said, 'Well, ol' Spud can dunk now.' And these days, you know, once you get in college I think you should dunk."
Perhaps. Everybody on this year's Midland team, including 5'8" Earl (Terrestrial) Wimbush, can. But when Webb first dipped, at age 16, he was only 5'3". Last season, when he got his approximate 40, he was listed at 5'6", though he was only 5'5". Most college players can't even remember 5'5".
Webb himself is noncommittal about his jumping prowess. "Dunking means I can dunk," he says. "In a way I guess it's good because people say I can't do something and then I do it, and they don't say nothing."