All Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self wanted for Christmas was ... a highly-touted 7-foot center.
His wish-list was granted Wednesday when 225-pound University of Arizona freshman big man Jeff Withey orally committed to transfer to KU.
Withey chose the Jayhawks over Texas, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Indiana, San Diego, San Diego State and Boston College.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Withey said Wednesday afternoon, asked if his early a.m., cell phone call was planned as an early Christmas present to Self.
“I think I woke him up. He was definitely excited. He just told me to get here as soon as possible,” added Withey, Rivals.com’s No. 36-rated player in the Class of 2008 out of San Diego’s Horizon High.
Withey asked out of his scholarship agreement at Arizona following the late October resignation of Lute Olson.
“My family and I sat down together, looked at all the schools and Kansas just popped out over everyone else,” said Withey, who attended Late Night in the Phog as a recruit his junior year of high school.
He ultimately orally committed to Louisville, but switched to Arizona after deciding to remain on the West coast.
“I felt it (KU) was the best place for me. All the coaches, coach Self, coach (Danny) Manning, coach (Kurtis) Townsend, they know how to develop young players. That’s one of the main things I was looking at. I’m just really excited about it,” added Withey, who plans on arriving in Lawrence in early January, well in advance of the start of spring semester classes.
He can practice, but not play in games the rest of this season and will be eligible to play in games in late December 2009.
Withey — he averaged 20.8 points, 13 rebounds 7.3 blocks and 4.1 assists his senior year at Horizon — says he’s looking forward to going up against 6-11 sophomore center Cole Aldrich every day in practice.
“He’s definitely one of the best big men in the country,” Withey said. “It’s so interesting how good he got last year. I’m looking forward to going up against one of the best big men in the country every day. I know he’ll make me better and I'll make him better.”
When asked to describe his game, Withey said: “I like to run the floor and play defense. I definitely like (Boston Celtics forward) Kevin Garnett. I like to play with my back to the basket, and be able to get my hook shot in, and I also like facing up and taking the guy off the dribble or shooting the jumper.”
He said his average of seven blocks per game in high school actually originated from his talents in another sport.
“When I was younger, I played volleyball and that definitely helped with my timing and everything,” Withey said. “It’s (blocking shots) something that just comes naturally to me.”
Withey watched with interest as Arizona downed KU, 84-67, on Tuesday night in Tucson.
“It was pretty tough because I’m friends with all the guys on Arizona,” Withey said. “But I was definitely rooting for KU. It was a heartbreaker, but it only made me want to go there (Kansas) even more.”
Self cannot yet comment on the addition of Withey in accordance with NCAA rules.
His high school coach, Waheed Mitchell, said: “Jeff has great timing, touch around the basket. He can run the floor. He is very patient, understands the game. He is very accurate from eight to 10 feet. He also can shoot the three-ball.
“Jeff is very humble, very coachable. He’s always been the best player on his team but you would never know it. Everyone who knows Jeff is head over heels about him.”
Mitchell was asked if Withey reminds him of any other player.
“Probably defensively and everything he is a skilled Alonzo Mourning,” Mitchell said. “because he blocks shots and gets up and down the floor.”
Arizona hated to see Withey go. The school’s athletic director for several weeks refused to grant him a release from his scholarship agreement, finally agreeing to let him move on.
“(I’ll) let bygones be bygones,” Withey said, indicating he has no ill-will toward Arizona. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m really excited about coming to Kansas.
“I’m excited about the snow. I’m actually looking forward to that and becoming a Jayhawk.”
Notes: Withey said, of course, he does have NBA dreams. So how many years will he be a Jayhawk? “I just go season by season. I’d love to play in the NBA. There’s not any pressure to go right away,” he said. ... Withey said his mom, a teacher, and dad, who works in construction, would be moving to Lawrence, but not until next school year. They currently live in Tucson. ... KU currently has 14 scholarships awarded for next season, meaning at least one player will move on. Teams are granted 13 scholarships. KU has signed Elijah Johnson, a point guard out of Las Vegas Cheyenne High and Thomas Robinson, a power forward out of Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. The Jayhawks are recruiting John Wall, a point guard out of Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., and Lance Stephenson, a 6-5 forward out of Lincoln High in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Journal-World’s Eric Sorrentino contributed to this report and wrote the initial Withey transfer story on KUsports.com.