Bringing down 740 rebounds in one season requires a big man, but not necessarily a grown-up. Morgan State's seven-foot Marvin (The Eraser) Webster is both. Those 740 rebounds—an NCAA record for a season—coupled with 21 points and eight blocked shots a game led Morgan State to the NCAA Division II title last year. Then for the second time Webster, the deeply religious son of a Baltimore preacher, spurned a large offer from the pros to remain in school because, as he puts it, "Money can't buy happiness and I wasn't physically or spiritually prepared."
It appeared that Webster carried some of his lack of preparedness into this season when he had only 10 points in a 56-48 opening-game win over Loyola of Baltimore. But The Eraser was his old self the next night against the University of Baltimore with 23 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. As the Bears have run up a 6-2 record, he has averaged 16.4 in both scoring and rebounding, even while fighting off the after-effects of hepatitis.
"I'd love to win the title again, but basketball isn't the most important thing in my life," says Webster, who is blessed with his father's Sunday morning voice and the looks of a young Muhammad Ali. "God comes first with me, followed by my family, people in general and basketball. I'm not sure what my destination will be in this world, but I would like to play some pro ball, to earn a living like anybody else. So my most immediate concern after this season has to be signing a contract. I can't escape that."
It is impossible to doubt the sincerity of this unusual 22-year-old as he talks about what he wants out of life. It's no wonder friends ask him to talk to their little brothers about staying out of trouble.
When Webster was a senior at Baltimore's Edmondson High School, he wanted to go to the University of Maryland. He had never even seen Morgan State's campus, though the college is only 30 minutes from his home. However, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell felt he already had enough height in Tom McMillen and Len Elmore and suggested that Webster take his 6'10", 165-pound frame to a junior college and come around again in two years. Webster, now 235 pounds, has tried to honor that request, but Driesell now refuses to schedule the Bears.
Webster was joined at Morgan State by a handsome young coach named Nat Frazier. "Can you imagine that I didn't even have to recruit Marvin? That he was here?" says Frazier, who drives a $10,000 Mercedes and should be coaching at a higher level very soon. "We're both preachers' sons and have gotten along well from the start. I thought he was good as a sophomore when we went 20-8, but last year he simply dominated the college division. He had 39 points and 32 rebounds in one game, 38 and 29 in another and 13 blocks against Stillman. Remember when Maryland Eastern Shore was 20-0? We knocked them off 72-70 in their next game. Marvin had 20 points and 22 boards."
At the end of the season Morgan State was selected for the Division II tournament and virtually wrapped up the championship in a tough semifinal game with Assumption.
"I think our players were intimidated by Webster's nickname as much as anything," recalls Assumption Coach Joe O'Brien. "But The Eraser never lets you get an easy two inside, he won't let you get a streak started and you're not going to get many tip-ins either. On the other hand, if Morgan hasn't gotten anything the last couple times down the floor, you know they're coming inside to Webster. Unfortunately, he can shoot it too."
The particular talent which most endears Webster to pro scouts is what O'Brien calls "rejecting and retrieving." He means that instead of blocking the ball out of bounds and giving it to the opponents again, Webster usually spikes the ball right back into the face of the shooter and creates the strong possibility of a turnover.
Utah was the first pro team to recognize Webster's potential, if not his whereabouts, when it tried to sign him after his little-publicized sophomore year. The Stars' second choice in the 1973 undergraduate draft is still listed as "Marvin Webster, Oregon State." Last year, after Morgan State had won its championship and Webster had been named Division II Player of the Year, Coach of the Year Frazier spirited his superstar off to New York to avoid a similar hustle from the Philadelphia 76ers.
That left The Eraser free to pursue the NCAA career-rebounding record of 2,334, which he could break before tournament time. And a straw poll of pro teams that have a chance to pick first in the NBA draft indicates that Webster will probably be the No. 1 choice, no matter how many 57-point nights North Carolina State's wondrous David Thompson comes up with.
"Am I really considered that good?" Webster asks. "I'm not so sure. Sometimes I don't feel like shoving somebody for position or getting rough. I just like to use my speed to hustle around people and get the job done. And sometimes I feel sorry for my opponents."
Blessed are the meek.