Jeff Withey, who traveled to Greece, Germany and Macedonia last summer as a member of Athletes in Action’s all-star basketball team, now gears for an equally exciting adventure — a Sunday through Aug. 14 journey to Switzerland and Paris with Kansas University’s hoops squad.
“It’s something we will remember forever,” said 7-foot senior center Withey, who is somewhat of an international travel expert at the age of 22 — he also trekked to France during his high school days at San Diego’s Horizon High.
“Not too many times do people get to go to Europe paid for. It’ll be fun to be able to walk around and see everything. We’re going with people we like. We’re all good friends, so it’s pretty much going on a trip with all your friends to a new place.”
Withey is the right guy to ask about the differences in culture — and basketball — in Europe versus the U.S.
“You’ve got to get used to the bigger key,” he said of the international lane of 16 feet wide, compared to the collegiate lane of 12 feet wide. “Everybody likes to shoot jumpers and it’s a really physical way to play basketball so it’ll be good for us to see the different way to play.”
KU will play the Swiss National Team on Tuesday and Wednesday in Fribourg, Switzerland and French Club Teams on Aug. 11-12 in Paris.
“It’s going to expand our game and just going out there and experiencing the different food, the different culture, it’s always fun to do that, walking around. The cities are all historic, so it’ll just be a good time,” Withey said.
This trip figures to be a bonding experience for the Jayhawks, who have eight true freshmen on the roster to go with two red-shirt frosh.
“We lose our two best players in Tyshawn (Taylor) and T-Rob (Thomas Robinson) and so we’re going to be a new, completely different team,” Withey said. “We have eight freshmen, and they each bring something new to the table. Perry (Ellis, 6-8, Wichita Heights) was probably the most highly-recruited one and was a McDonald’s All-American.
“Just from what I’ve seen, he can do a lot. He can shoot the ball or play the post so it’s going to be fun playing with him. As far as everyone else, I can see them contributing a lot and I am excited to play some big games with them. The guys coming back (including seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young) ... we’ve been playing forever and going to the Final Four last year, we all got a lot of experience out of it, and I think that we have a good group of leaders that can bring the team back there.”
The trip to Europe caps a busy summer for Withey, who attended the Amar’e Stoudemire big-man camp in Chicago and LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas to go with working several camps in Kansas.
“I got a lot of new moves going to the Amar’e camp and worked on a lot of drills and did a lot of things NBA people do, so it was a good experience and even getting to play against Amar’e Stoudemire himself, so it was really cool,” Withey said. “And then in Vegas we played a lot of pick-up, going up and down, playing games, and whenever you play 25 of the the best college athletes (working as counselors), it makes you better. It was a lot of fun and even though I didn’t get to play against LeBron, it was a good time. I’ve just been busy with a lot of practice, getting ready to go over to Europe, so it’s been a pretty busy offseason.”
Withey, who averaged 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last season — he had an all-time NCAA Tournament record 31 blocks — has fared well in pre-Europe trip practices, KU coach Bill Self said.
“Jeff is better. He will keep getting better,” Self said. “I don’t know if he’s a guy yet (that) you can pencil in 15 (points) and eight (rebounds) because he played off Thomas getting double-teamed so much. Jeff is going to be good.”
Kaun’s team 3-0: Former KU center Sasha Kaun scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in Russia’s 75-74 victory over Brazil on Thursday at the Olympic Games in London. He started and played 15 minutes. Russia, 3-0, will meet Spain on Saturday.
Recruiting: Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 6-4 senior combo guard from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep School, has narrowed his list of schools to 10, Rivals.com reports. They are: KU, Baylor, UCLA, Illinois, Kentucky, UConn, Alabama, Florida State, Memphis and Texas. Originally from Canada, Rathan-Mayes is the No. 48-ranked player in the country. He will visit Kentucky today. UK is the only school on his list that has not yet offered a scholarship.