Two years ago, Corey Webster had it all. AsBasketball New Zealand’s wunderkind, the 22-year-old Breakers player was living his dream, having risen through the competitive ranks of the sport to become one of the club’s brightest stars.
A year later, having already served a 60-day suspension after testing positive for cannabis, the 1.9m Aucklander was halfway through a year-long ban for his second drugs violation. He had
hit rock bottom.
There were many tough lessons to learn in a short space of time, Corey (now 24) admits. Turning to his family for help, especially mum Cherry, he knew he had to grow up, and fast. After 12 months of soul searching, Corey has picked himself up and is back in the Breakers, with his team chasing a third straight NBL championship title this week.
In fact, he maintains that without his drug struggles, he wouldn’t be half the man he is today. “When I got banned the second time, I just wanted to sleep in my bed forever,” the softly spoken guard says.
His contract with the team was terminated when he tested positive for the then-legal high Kronic in 2011, which Corey has said he didn’t realise was in the cigarette he was sharing with friends. “For a while, I didn't want to do anything – it was a real low point. I was scared for my future. Basketball was my life and I had no other qualifications. I was afraid. “So I had to get myself up and prove to the club that I was worth taking a third chance on,” he says.
“It was a terrible time,” adds Cherry. “As a parent, you live it too, you feel all the same emotions. We did a lot of re ection as a family, to think of ways to show the Breakers that he was going
to get his life back on track.”
From keeping up his training schedule to getting a part-time job at the supermarket run by Breakers co-owner Paul Blackwell, Corey did all he could to prove himself to family, friends and team-mates during his year-long absence from the game he loves.
But it was a gruelling trip to China that persuaded the club to take another chance on Corey. “I went over there to train with a professional team. They told me it was going to be a hard place to live, with tough training and difficult conditions, but if I could do it, it would help prove that basketball was what I wanted to do,” Corey explains.
“They told me I needed to make sacrifices to be a Breaker again, so I did everything they asked. And I got back on the team,” he finishes with a small smile.
Despite the regret and guilt, it’s testament to his character that Corey can now say the experience made him a different man. “That year was an eye-opener,” he says. “I’m a better person now. I’ve changed my diet, my attitude and my group of friends. I was in with the wrong crowd, I think. You have to get rid of those bad influences on the outside. I know Mum is especially
happy about that.”
“His personality hasn't changed, but he’s polished himself up a bit, got rid of the rough edges,” Cherry smiles. “I’ve really seen a huge growth in his character, the decisions he makes and his maturity. It is like he had to go through this difficult stage to become a better person. I’m proud of him.”
While Cherry admits she wasn’t thrilled with Corey’s past decisions, she points out that he was a young man who made a mistake – like many other 22-year-olds.
“He wasn’t trying to cheat anyone to be better,” she says. “The stuff he was doing was making him a worse basketball player. He was just too immature, and couldn’t see it. But now he’s
finally realised what the rest of us were seeing.”
Corey says he’s never had a drug problem, and that both of the incidents were isolated. “When I took the cannabis, I knew I was taking it. I was going through a really low point with my girlfriend at the time. But I was never a drug addict. If I was, I would probably still be taking drugs. I was just getting in the wrong situations.”
Although he learnt his lessons the hard way, Cherry says Corey needed a wake-up call. “He’d had an easy ride,” she says. “He was always naturally the best basketball player in any team he was in, ever since he was a kid.
“He’d never been in a difficult life situation, and the life he was living wasn’t real. This has really shown him how hard life can be.”
With the team welcoming him back at the end of last year, Corey has had his best season yet – but he knows he’s lucky. “Ever since the suspension, I haven’t put a toe out of line and I’m always trying to prove that this is where I want to be. So I’m not looking back.”