Self giddy over ‘premier’ newcomer class

Henrys, Johnson, Robinson, Withey project as a fabulous five

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Kansas freshman Thomas Robinson came to campus early and made a public appearance at Bill Self’s summer basketball camp.


Elijah Johnson, of North Las Vegas Cheyenne- Pump N Run Elite, center, blasts through two Missouri Mustang defenders Saturday, May 3, 2008 during the 9th Annual Jayhawk Invitational at Allen Fieldhouse.


Henny Ray Abrams/AP File Photo

In this April 1 photo, west player Xavier Henry, right, battles for a loose ball against East player Dexter Strickland in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Coral Gables, Fla.


Transfer Jeff Withey looks on from the bench during the second half of the Jayhawks’ Jan. 13 game at Allen Fieldhouse.

Bill Self won’t complain if anybody wants to nickname his incoming class of recruits the “Fab Five.”

He’s awfully fond of the handful of guys he and assistants Joe Dooley, Danny Manning and Kurtis Townsend were able to corral.

“We’re very pleased with our class,” Self said of brothers Xavier and C.J. Henry, Elijah Johnson, Thomas Robinson and Arizona transfer Jeff Withey.

“Last year’s class surpassed what they were projected or rated, and this year’s class will go down as one of the premier classes in the country in large part to our late addition.”

The late addition is Xavier Henry,’s No. 8-rated player who signed a grant-in-aid with KU on April 23.

The 6-foot-6 Henry, who originally signed with Memphis, asked out of his letter-of-intent after coach John Calipari left for Kentucky.

“There are few players who possess the body, strength, explosion and outside perimeter shooting that Xavier has,” Self said of Henry, who averaged 28.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game for state champ Putnam City (Okla.) High.

“He’s the highest-ranked player we’ve ever signed. We’ve never been able to get a prospect rated so high across the board his entire high school career. I would say he ranks right up there potentially with the very best.”

He also could be a one-and-done player. Xavier wants to play in the NBA as soon as possible.

“I think he certainly has the potential to be that, and I won’t stand in his way,” Self said. “Based on my talks with him, his whole deal is ‘I want to go to college, I want to be a college kid, I want to help you win, to help the university win and when the time’s right, we’ll know it’s right.’ The big picture is if we do well, then those things take care of themselves. I know he’s very unselfish and he’ll be thinking along those lines.”

He’s complemented by brother C.J. Henry, a 6-4 guard who received a $1.6 million signing bonus with the New York Yankees in 2005, but saw his pro baseball career end last fall.

C.J. spent the season at Memphis, but decided to leave the Tigers’ program to join Xavier at KU.

“Xavier, deservedly so, gets a lot of credit,” Self said. “And the reason C.J. hasn’t gotten the credit is because he’s kind of been out of sight the last several years. But out of sight doesn’t mean that he can’t play. I really believe we’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the impact he’ll have on our program.”

During his senior season at Putnam City (Okla.) High School in 2005, C.J. averaged 23.2 points, 4.1 assists and 2.4 steals. He also earned all-state honors.

“He’s a guy that can play point guard and can shoot,” Self said. “We’ve got some guys that certainly have played college minutes and performed well. But he’s a guy that will come in and he’ll challenge for significant minutes right off the bat.”

Another guard is Johnson, 6-2 out of Las Vegas’ Cheyenne High. Johnson,’s No. 24-rated player, averaged 15.9 points and 3.9 assists per game his senior season.

“Elijah is a guy we targeted for a long time,” Self said. “We think his potential is very very high. He is a running, jumping, scoring, fast, active guard. He has a great chance to help us right off the bat.”

He chose KU over Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA and others.

“There are really no weaknesses in his game that I can see offensively,” Cheyenne coach Teral Fair said. “He is a streaky long-range shooter, legitimate NBA range when he’s on. He’s exceptional finishing around the basket. I’d like to see him develop his mid-range game more. His passing is the strongest point of his game. He’s unselfish to a fault.”

KU receives help at the power forward slot in Robinson, 6-8, from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. He averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks a game his senior season. He played his junior year at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md.

Robinson chose KU over Memphis and others.

“This guy is a rebounder first — rebounder, defender, runner, jumper,” Self said. “It’s hard to say anybody is athletic as ‘Shady’ (Darrell Arthur), but his motor, his quickness is kind of in that class of ‘Shady’ and Darnell (Jackson),” Self added.

Robinson was ranked No. 18 by

“He goes after every ball. He probably has as good a motor as anybody we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Self said. “His skill set is improving all the time. He’s a good passer, good ball-handler. His shot is improving. He’s a prototypical athletic four-man.”

Robinson has heard he reminds some of the NBA’s Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard.

“Forwards who are versatile and can step out and hit the 15-footer and are also good down low,” said Robinson, who said he brings “energy and hard work on defense, rebounding.”

A fifth member of the recruiting class is seven-footer Withey, who decided to leave Arizona following the October resignation of coach Lute Olson.

The player who averaged 20.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 7.0 blocks and 4.0 assists his senior year at San Diego’s Horizon High chose KU over Texas, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Indiana, San Diego and S.D. State.

“Jeff will be a big asset to us,” Self said. “You can physically see he is very tall, very long, a good shot blocker. He’s also a guy who can run and has a great touch.”

“He has a chance to be a terrific player. He still has to get stronger. He has great skill. When the light comes on — not if — he’ll have the chance to impact this program in a big way.”

Withey — he said he’d like to be 240 pounds next season — said he likes to “drop step, dunk the ball, block shots and rebound.” He loves his new locale.

“I like change. I like adventure. This is another step in life,” Withey said.