MADISON, Wis. — Tracy Webster always prided himself on being a team-first basketball player, someone who put the best interests of others ahead of his own statistics because that’s what often was required to win. So when fans used to complain that he wasn’t scoring more points at Wisconsin, his retort was simple.
“People on the outside might not have understood it,” Webster said. ” ‘Oh man, Tracy, you’re not looking to shoot the ball as much. You’re not being as aggressive.’ Well, guess what? I’ve got Michael Finley and Rashard Griffith, one on the wing and one in the post. I shouldn’t be that first option. I should be that third option. I knew my role.”
Webster played his role as well as any player Wisconsin’s basketball program has ever had. On Friday, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame as part of an 11-person class. Twenty-three years since his last game, Webster still holds the program’s career record for assists (501) and ranks second all-time in steals (183).
“Like a real point guard and true point guard, he made everybody around him better,” said Finley, a three-time honorable mention All-American at Wisconsin who played 15 NBA seasons. “My success as a basketball player, I have to give him a lot of credit for that.”
Webster, Finley and Griffith were the catalysts for guiding Wisconsin to the 1994 NCAA Tournament, the school’s first appearance in 47 years. That team remains one of the most beloved at Wisconsin because of the accomplishments, the personalities and the up-tempo style played under coach Stu Jackson. The Badgers averaged 77.9 points per game that season, which remains the highest-scoring Wisconsin team in the 3-point era.
At the center of it all was Webster, a three-year captain whose achievements are even more remarkable considering he only played three seasons at Wisconsin. Webster was named the team’s most valuable player in 1992, when he shot a school-record 49 percent on 3-point attempts. He earned All-Big Ten honors three times, including first-team accolades when he set the single-season record with 179 assists in 1993. Webster finished his career with 1,264 points.
“The one thing besides the basketball was his personality,” said former teammate Howard Moore, who now serves as an assistant coach at Wisconsin. “He had that galvanizing personality that just brought everybody together.
“He just knew how to keep everyone involved, whether you were playing 30 minutes a game or 2 minutes a game. When we made that run to the tournament, everyone felt a part of it. Everyone took ownership. And he really made everyone feel together.”
One of the toughest decisions of Webster’s career came when he decided to remain at Wisconsin after coach Steve Yoder was forced to resign in 1992. Webster stayed put when Jackson took over the program, and the Badgers took off. During the 1992-93 season, Finley and Webster combined to average 36 points per game and helped Wisconsin reach the NIT.
Wisconsin lost 77-73 to Rice in the first round at the Wisconsin Field House. But when Finley and Webster opted to return to school for the following season, expectations climbed.
“The catalyst was losing in the NIT,” Moore said. “We were in the locker room crying our hearts out. But I think when we were in that locker room, we realized that if we come back together, we’ll be in good shape the next year. So I think the pain of losing in the NIT to Rice, that locker room is what changed us for next season. And that’s what fueled us to take that run to the tournament.”
That’s also where Griffith enters the picture. He was a 6-foot-11 center who was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois and joined Wisconsin’s team before the 1993-94 season. Griffith starred at King College Prep in Chicago, averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks per game in leading his team to a state title as a senior.
As he was evaluating his college decision, Griffith quickly developed strong bonds with Jackson and Webster, who had starred at Thornton Township High School, about 20 miles south of Chicago in Harvey, Ill.
“Tracy was special for me seeing him growing up playing in Chicago,” Griffith said. “He was one of the guys that everybody always talked about like, ‘Have you seen that guy, that point guard Tracy Webster?’ It’s just fortunate that I came here because he was one of the reasons. I wanted to stay close to home. Tracy had me on my recruiting visit. Tracy always has a special place in my heart.”
The Badgers opened the 1993-94 campaign with 11 consecutive victories and entered the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 1976. Wisconsin finished the regular season 17-10 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten to earn a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament against No. 8 seed Cincinnati. Wisconsin beat Cincinnati 80-72 before losing 109-96 to Missouri in the second round.
“As a younger guy, you always watch college basketball, the NCAA Tournament and you say, ‘Man one day, hopefully I’ll be playing in that,’ ” Webster said. “That was always a goal. That was a goal of our coaches that we had. They wanted to get us to that next level. Eventually we ended up getting there. It was a great feeling.”
Webster spent nearly 20 years as an assistant coach at Kentucky, Illinois, Purdue, Ball State, DePaul, Nebraska, Tennessee and California. He now lives in Atlanta with his wife and is out of college coaching. Every time March rolls around, he is reminded of that magical time at Wisconsin.
Webster said the magnitude of Wisconsin’s accomplishments took some time to comprehend. He is grateful for the opportunities he was provided, which helped to jump-start the basketball program.
Wisconsin has made 19 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and 21 of the past 24. Without the success of the 1993-94 team, who knows what would have happened?
But Webster, in true point guard fashion, continues to spread the credit around.
“When we went to the tournament, I felt it,” Webster said. “I felt like, ‘OK we went to the tournament, we got over that big hurdle.’ But at the same time, it didn’t hit me until after I was done, like we really did some great things.
“But it didn’t really start with myself. Trent Jackson and those guys before me, they did a great job of establishing the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program. And we just took it from there. And then the group behind us took it from there, and now look at it.”
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