This time, Tracy Webster was ready to commit to Tennessee.
Webster, who was coach Cuonzo Martin’s final assistant coaching hire on the men’s basketball staff last week, got his first dose of UT when he was coming out of Thornton High School in Harvey, Ill., in 1990.
“I took an official visit to the University of Tennessee when Coach (Wade) Houston was here,’’ said Webster, who ranks among the legends in Chicago-area basketball. “I came to the Kentucky game, and I remember the atmosphere was really good.’’
The Vols beat the Wildcats that night, 102-100, but they lost the battle for Webster, who also visited Southern Cal before choosing to attend Wisconsin. Webster, ranked in 1992 as the No. 6 point guard in Chicago prep basketball history by the Chicago Sun Times, went on to a storybook career at Wisconsin.
Webster, a three-time team captain with the Badgers 1991-94, also earned All-Big Ten honors three times and in 1994 led Wisconsin to its first NCAA tournament in 46 years.
Martin and Webster have known each other since high school, attending a Nike summer basketball camp together and playing against each other in tournaments before facing off in college.
Martin played at Purdue 1991-95, and Webster and the Badgers were a familiar nemesis.
As much as Webster impressed Martin as a player, he proved to be an even better friend and fellow assistant coach at Purdue when the two worked together under Boilermakers legend Gene Keady during the 2003-04 season.
“Tracy and I go way back,’’ Martin said at Tuesday’s press gathering in the lobby of the Pratt Pavilion. “He was a really good college point guard, understood how to play the game, very crafty, got steals, scored the basketball, got assists.
“He goes about his business the right way, works extremely hard, a great recruiter.”
Webster, who at Wisconsin set school records for career assists (501), assists in a season (179, in 1992-93) and single-season 3-point shooting percentage (.490, in 1991-92), wasn’t even quite sure what day it was Tuesday.
“I got in here on Sunday; what’s today?’’ said Webster, who left an assistant coaching position at Nebraska to come to UT. “It’s been busy, for sure.’’
While new to Tennessee, Webster is no stranger to the SEC or the Vols, coaching under Billy Gillispie at Kentucky 2007-09 and having been recruited by former UT coach Bruce Pearl when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa.
“I used to go to basketball camps at Iowa,’’ Webster said. “Coach Pearl was the same guy then as now, really. A good guy, always in shape and energetic.’’
Webster said he’s impressed with how the Vols have started to take shape the past week.
Webster knows what it’s like to go through a coaching change — as a player following his sophomore year at Wisconsin, and as a coach at DePaul, when he took over as the Blue Demons interim coach halfway through the 2009-2010 season.
“At first it hurts you, because these are the coaches you’ve known for a while,’’ Webster said. “But you end up moving on; you realize you can’t stop working.’’
Webster knows about moving on, too; UT is his ninth coaching stop over the past 14 years.
“I do want to sit still now, and this is a great place here,’’ Webster said. “I like being with good guys.’’