Overcoming an 'Immature' Past

Viewers of the CSKA Euroleague basketball match against Belgium's Charleroi on Thursday are likely to notice one player who stands out above the rest: Marcus Webb.

The 26-year-old former Boston Celtics player from Montgomery, Alabama, who joined CSKA last September, fires up the Moscow home crowd with thundering dunks, playful tactics and his trademark baggy shorts.

Off court, dressed in stylish designer suits with an earring in each ear, his smile and cool persona attract admiring fans. His team finished in the final four of the European Cup last season and has a chance to advance in the European Cup playoffs this season as long as it doesn't lose Thursday.

"Marcus brings spirit. He's a good image on the court," said CSKA coach Stanislav Yeremin. Webb, who averages 10 points and nine rebounds per game, joined the team in September 1996. "He's like an actor who does funny things," said Yeremin.

But not everything Webb has done is funny: In the United States he served 28 days of a 30-day prison sentence in 1993 for sexually assaulting a former girlfriend. His troubled past -- including arrests on misdemeanor charges and lying to the Boston Celtics and the police -- helped cut short his NBA career.

"Marcus Webb is a very immature person," said Celtics director of public information David Zaccaro. The 6-foot-9-inch, 280-pound center played only one season in the NBA before his off-the-court problems and injuries forced him out.

"That was a very difficult time in my life," said Webb, saying he is a more mature person now and that his flashy lifestyle is a thing of the past.

Webb said he also suffered another blow when his friend and former teammate Reggie Lewis collapsed on court and died suddenly during the middle of the 1993 season. Recalls Webb: "He was someone who had helped me during this difficult period. It took me two years to overcome [his death.]"

Webb is one of two U.S. basketball players playing in Russia this year, but other American athletes began playing basketball in Russia four years ago. Julies Nwoshu, a former Boston Celtic, played for CSKA last season, prior to making a brief return to the Celtics.

But for this season, Yeremin said he was unable to make a recruiting trip to the United States because the Red Army team was experiencing managerial problems. He recruited Webb through an agent, who also told him about Webb's criminal record.

"It was a risk," Yeremin said. "We risked it because we had no time to choose another player." There have been no problems with Webb apart from his sporadic play, Yeremin said. In fact, Webb may be the kind of U.S. player Russia is looking for, Yeremin said.

"I like Marcus because he's a good teammate," Yeremin says. "He's very friendly with the guys. Russia is not your typical country, and for Americans this can be a problem when they are not used to the traveling and hotels. He's not nervous. He understands the conditions."

Former New York Knicks player Patrick Eddy, and Chuck Evans, both of whom played for CSKA two seasons ago and were involved in a contract dispute, could not adjust to Russia and would only eat at McDonald's, according to Yeremin. Webb, on the other hand, is a good cook, enjoys Russian cuisine and tries to acquaint himself with the Russian culture.

"It's a challenge here," Webb says. "There are many days when I just want to pack up and go home. But the most important thing is I have my name on the line."

Webb's professional career began in 1992 when he left the University of Alabama one year early in order to enter the NBA. During the try-out camps he made a name for himself, holding his own with superstars like Charles Barkley. This landed him a one-year contract with the Celtics. After his troubled 1992-1993 season, however, he left to play in Europe.

Webb played one season for Pau Orthez in Pau, France, in which he averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds per game and made the all-star team. In 1994 in Bursa, Turkey, he played for Tofas, where he averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds per game and said he was so famous he had to take a discreet route to the gymnasium to avoid getting mobbed by admiring fans.

Webb said he chose to come to Russia last September to play for CSKA after being offered a salary in the six figure range as well as an opportunity to capture a European Cup.

"I want to make a lot of money so my kids don't ever have to go through what I did," Webb said.