Christian Welp, a Washington Huskies basketball legend and the school’s all-time leading scorer, the former German exchange student who attended high school in East Bremerton and called the Pacific Northwest home thereafter, died Sunday of apparent heart failure.
He was 51 years old.
“This is an extremely sad loss,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement released by the school. “Christian is one of the most outstanding student-athletes to have ever played at Washington. He was not only a great guy but he was a great role model and father and we will miss him dearly.”
Welp, a 7-foot center, came to the United States as an exchange student from Osnabruck, West Germany, and began playing for Olympic High School in East Bremerton during the 1982-83 season.
He was a dominant high school player — he scored 28 points and grabbed 28 rebounds in his debut, and led Olympic to a state championship in 1983 in four overtimes against Centralia to earn tournament MVP honors — but most will remember him for the four-year career he had at the University of Washington under coach Marv Harshman and Andy Russo, from 1983-87. A four-year starter — rare in those days — Welp finished his career with 2,073 points in 129 games (16.1 points per game), and also holds UW career records for made field goals (820), field-goal attempts 1,460), blocked shots (186) and 20-point games (43), and is third all-time with a 56.2 career field-goal percentage.
He teamed with fellow German native Detlef Schrempf, the former Seattle SuperSonics star, to lead the Huskies to Pac-10 regular-season championships in 1984 and 1985, and helped the Huskies to three NCAA tournament appearances — including a run to the Sweet 16 in 1984. Welp was named Pac-10 player of the year as a junior in 1985-86 — Brandon Roy is the only other player in school history to win a conference player of the year award — and was named all-conference as a sophomore, junior and senior.
Welp was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 16 overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft, though his two-year stint there was marred by a knee injury suffered during his rookie season. Philadelphia traded him to San Antonio following the 1988-89 season, and the Spurs traded him to Golden State midway through the 1989-90 season.
That marked the end of his NBA career, but Welp made a name for himself in Europe over the next decade. He was named MVP of the biennial Eurobasket tournament in 1993 after leading the German national team to the championship in Munich, and played professionally in Germany for Bayer Giants Leverkusen (1991-96) and Alba Berlin (1997-98), in Greece for Olympiacos (1996-97), and in Italy for Viola Reggio Calabria (1998-99). He was a member of nine championship teams in nine seasons.
But even when his basketball career took him overseas, Welp still considered himself a Pacific Northwest resident.
He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004: “In Philadelphia, I played there and lived here. When I played in Germany, I lived here. I’d just take a couple of suitcases and go. In Germany, the day after the season, I’d fly back here. The day before training camp, I’d fly out of here. I consider myself a resident since 1983.”
Welp lived in Bothell with his wife, Melanie, and two sons, Collin and Nicholas — he also has a daughter, Allison, from a previous marriage — and he was active in the local youth football and basketball scene.
Welp watched Collin play for Seattle Prep in the 67-63 win over Lincoln on Friday at Mount Tahoma.
“He was so looking forward to watching his kids play and grow up — all the good stuff you think about with your family,” said Dave Harshman, whose father, Marv, recruited and coached Welp for the first two years of his UW career.
“He was more than just a basketball player. In fact, his kids for a long time didn’t even know he played basketball, until somebody told them. ... He was that kind of guy. His teammates loved him.”
Greg Carlin remembers drafting Welp’s son, Nicholas, to play for his Bothell Youth Football team in 2010, and then asking Welp to help out as an assistant.
He was glad to.
“The biggest thing is that you would have never known, other than him being 7 feet tall, that he led the Huskies in scoring or that he played in the NBA for a bunch of years,” Carlin said. “There was no ego with him at all.”