Taking the Lead

Steven A Soto

Christian Webster had a slew of questions running through his mind as he walked into Lavietes Pavilion on that September afternoon that has been etched into his memory.

Webster can still remember the exact questions he pondered as he entered the gymnasium: What am I going to say to the team? How am I supposed to act now? What am I going to do without my friends?

Just hours had passed since the senior had received a piece of shocking news: men’s basketball co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry—Webster’s teammates, blockmates, and best friends since he arrived at Harvard back in 2009—were withdrawing from the College in the wake of the Gov. 1310 cheating scandal.

The news, which struck many because of its implications for the Ivy League men’s basketball title race, hit Webster on a personal level.

Curry and Casey’s departure also put Webster in an unexpected position; with the co-captains gone, Webster was now the team’s most experienced returning player.

All of these thoughts swirled through Webster’s mind as he entered Lavietes Pavilion that afternoon for the first practice of his Harvard career without his closest friends by his side. But Webster didn’t have much time to feel sorry for himself or his friends—or to think at all, for that matter.

Moments after Webster’s arrival, Crimson coach Tommy Amaker called the team together, and soon the spotlight shifted to the soft-spoken Webster, who was asked to address the team.

“The season must go on,” Webster recalls telling his teammates. “I know those are our boys—those are my closest friends—but we still have a season to play, and we can still win the Ivy League, and we can still do everything we wanted to do. We still have enough talent in this gym right now to do as much as we want.”

That afternoon, Webster became the Crimson’s leader.

“It definitely felt like it was out of a movie scene,” recalls sophomore Jonah Travis of Webster’s speech. “He just told us we can’t get hung up over [the loss of Curry and Casey]—this can’t be the season where we say, ‘Oh, we didn’t have these guys.’ He just said [that] we need to keep going, keep going strong.”

In early October, Travis and the rest of his Crimson teammates formally voted Webster and junior Laurent Rivard to be Harvard’s co-captains—a position Webster did not anticipate assuming when he returned to campus in August.

“I wasn’t prepared for it at all,” says Webster, who admits that vocal leadership isn’t something that comes naturally to him. “It was a little awkward at first. Everyone was kind of looking toward me for guidance.”

But heading into the Crimson’s season opener against MIT on Friday, Webster has adjusted to his new position.

“I’m not really a yeller, but if something is going wrong, I’ll huddle the team up,” he says. “It’s different for me to be more vocal, but it’s helped me grow a lot.”

Returning to the court has also helped Webster deal with the absence of his blockmates from the team.