Josh Selby believes his mom will be in serious need of tissues late Saturday morning in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I know she’ll be shedding tears,” Selby, Kansas University’s freshman guard, said of Maeshon Witherspoon, who will watch proudly as her son makes his long-awaited major-college basketball debut against USC.
So what about it, mom?
Will the tears flow before, during and/or after the 11 a.m. tipoff?
“I’m going to cry Friday night. By that time, I’m hoping to have all the crying out. I’m hoping it turns out that way,” she said Wednesday.
Witherspoon — who has been in town visiting her son as he completed his season-opening nine-game NCAA-mandated suspension — will be seated with her brother and some of Josh’s cousins, who will make the 15-hour drive from Baltimore.
“We don’t fly,” Witherspoon said of the immediate family.
Yet they’ll all be on Cloud Nine watching Rivals.com’s No. 1-rated player fulfill a family dream.
“We never thought Josh would have the opportunity to play in college. Not because of the NCAA (investigation), but because of where Josh came from. Most kids don’t make it out of the neighborhood,” Witherspoon said.
“We appreciate what he’s been through and overcome to play his first collegiate game. Words cannot express how much we’re looking forward to his first college game. Our family has an unexplainable gratitude to the state of Kansas, university and fans the way they have embraced Josh. Everybody’s been so supportive,” Witherspoon said.
She said Josh is holding up well this final-exam week — he has three tests and five papers to complete — as he gears for Saturday’s game.
“I think Josh is handling it as strong-willed as possible,” Witherspoon said. “Of course, there has to be a little nervousness. I’m nervous for him, not about necessarily living up to the hype. Some of that is high school hype.
“I want him to go out, have fun and contribute to the team and be proud of the name on the front of the jersey, because the fans, the coaching staff and everybody really rallied and supported Josh. I want us as a family to give something back.
“I don’t think there will be a whole lot of ‘highlight reel’ his first game — him dunking on any 7-footers, if USC has any,” she added. “I just want to see a release — (like) ‘I’m happy to be here.’’’
She has read media reports quoting KU coach Bill Self as saying Selby likely will come off the bench versus the Trojans.
“I don’t care about that (decision either way). If I was coach Self, I wouldn’t start him,” Witherspoon said, “because he has not played nine games. You have five guys on the floor who have been competing very well. That’s not to say Josh is not competing at practice, but practice is one thing. Game time is something different. That’s the reason I wouldn’t start him.
“It is a lot of pressure. I think Allen Fieldhouse will go nuts the first time he’s in uniform even in the layup line. It’s about him getting in rhythm. It’s not if you start, it’s how you play when you are in the game.”
Witherspoon — a good basketball player in her own right, having been the first freshman to start on varsity at Overlea High School in Baltimore — was asked what were realistic expectations for the 6-foot-2 combo guard Saturday.
“I wouldn’t expect anything. It is his first game trying to fit in,” she said. “At the same time, I wouldn’t be shocked if he does something spectacular.”
Self has said he’ll open with Selby playing “off the ball,” though in KU’s offense both the point guard and shooting guard bring the ball up-court, whichever player touches the ball first.
“I don’t see Josh being a 2 very long, but he is a scoring point guard,” Witherspoon said. “Any given night, one guy can emerge as scoring leader on this team. What I’m hoping he brings to the table is (to) defend the guards because they will be coming after him. We all know Josh can score (32.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 5.0 rpg last year at Baltimore’s Lake Clifton High). Right now he has to prove he can be the energy guy because he does play with passion.
“Josh needs to be known for lockdown ‘D.’ I hope we see that.”
Witherspoon has seen improvement in her son just since his arrival on campus last summer.
For one thing, he has packed on pounds.
“He’s gotten big awfully fast. I don’t know what Kansas has in the water. I’d say he’s about 200 (pounds), with no fat on him,” Witherspoon said. “The first time I saw him (this semester), I said, ‘My goodness.’ I know Josh has always been a gym rat. He always wants to work on his body. It’s a job for him.”
Witherspoon was pleased to be able to see another sign of her son’s maturity on Tuesday night. She wandered over to Walmart to watch the Jayhawks’ annual Santa’s Helpers outing for charity.
“It was a really beautiful day when the university decided to do that,” Witherspoon said of the basketball program shopping for needy families over the holiday season. “One thing Josh said, ‘Doing this shows how blessed I am.’ He realizes not everybody has the opportunity to go to college. He understands how blessed he is to be in this situation.”
Witherspoon — she’s not yet decided whether to stay in Lawrence through the spring or head back to Baltimore — has enjoyed seeing her son’s growth.
“What’s the right word? It’s so shocking because everybody looks to him as ‘Josh Selby, ranked No. 1 in the country.’ To me, he is Josh, ‘Ma, can I get a hug?’ He is still a big mama’s boy. I don’t see him in the same light as everybody else,” she said.
“What I like the best (about KU) is it’s about all those kids, the whole team. The whole team is happy he’s a part of the team and now able to play. This team can do something special,” she added.