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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keegan

Toughened up, Jeff Withey ‘fabulous’

Kansas center Jeff Withey gets on the floor for a loose ball with Kansas State forward Rodney McGruder during the second half on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is KU guard Elijah Johnson.

Kansas center Jeff Withey gets on the floor for a loose ball with Kansas State forward Rodney McGruder during the second half on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is KU guard Elijah Johnson.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 59-53 victory over Kansas State on Feb. 13, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KSU coach Frank Martin

Kansas State coach Frank Martin talks to reporters following the Wildcats' 59-53 loss to Kansas on Feb. 13, 2012.

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KU vs. Kansas State

Box score

— You play basketball for Bill Self and you don’t compete hard, he’ll repay you with interest. And he’ll keep repaying you until you get tired of going through more than any physical opponent can put you through. And then you’ll start competing. You might even transform from a lamb in retreat to a charging bull.

That’s how Jeff Withey responded to the punitive Self, a football coach who dresses, smiles and sees the court like a basketball coach.

Withey went scoreless in the fall-from-ahead loss at Missouri. Since that game, he has averaged 20.3 points, 12 rebounds and 6.3 blocked shots, stringing together three dominant performances.

Thomas Robinson battled foul trouble Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum against a physical Kansas State team scrapping to relieve some NCAA Tournament bubble pressure. Players from both sides were getting smacked in the face, seeing stars and forming scars.

Withey kept plowing forward, doing what his team needed him to do. By night’s end, he fell one blocked shot short of a triple-double, totaling 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks in KU’s 59-53, blue-collar, black-and-blue body, victory against the Wildcats. That effort came hours after Withey was named Big 12 Player of the Week.

Withey opened a window into a recent punishment he endured in practice.

“Right before we went to Waco, I think I didn’t get a rebound,” Withey said. “He said, ‘Go touch every stair in the building.’ So I started running. Ever since then … I know coach and my teammates depend on me to play great. I picked it up. I don’t want to be running bleachers anymore. The Missouri game, I don’t want anything like that to ever happen again.”

Withey reached the conclusion that running into harm’s way in a game with teammates surrounding him beats running stairs by himself, getting humiliated in front of the guys whose approval he most desires.

“I’m serious, less than a week ago he’s touching every stair in the building because he would not try to go after the ball,” Self said. “Players are in his face going after him. All the sudden, you make a couple of baskets and get confidence. He’s been great.”

Self wasn’t the only coach marveling at Withey’s sudden emergence.

“As a coach, I root for guys to get better,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “Obviously, when we’re playing against him, you’re not rooting for him. But as a fan of the game, as a guy who tries to teach kids the game, when you see a guy play with the confidence that young man is playing with, to make that improvement … That was a guy who couldn’t get in a game last year. Bill used to try to play him. He couldn’t. He would put him in the game, and he’d have to take him out.”

And now?

“Now he’s dominating the game,” Martin said. “He’s not just playing. He’s dominating Big 12 games. I don’t think there’s a big kid in the country that does what he does for his team right now.”

Aside from senior Jamar Samuels (20 points), K-State couldn’t shoot straight, but the Wildcats competed hard, defended ruggedly, brought everything it had. Withey didn’t retreat once.

“He played really good against Baylor, and he played really good against Okie State, but he was a lot better tonight,” Self said. “This was a big-boy game, and he had 18, 11 and nine on a night Thomas wasn’t Thomas. I thought he was just fabulous.”

The players tough enough to handle the coach’s high standards tend to get a lot better playing for Self and his staff, as evidenced by Robinson’s huge junior season and Tyshawn Taylor’s exceptional Big 12 play that Self referenced when asked about Withey. But as far as going from zero to 61 in three games spanning six days, Withey’s pedal-to-the-metal sprint to prominence blows the mind.

“For somebody who has kind of come out of left field, I don’t know if I can remember anybody be as dominant, to go from scoreless to now: How do you win without him?” Self said. “Such a bonus for us because Thomas trusts him, and those two should get better playing with each other as (Withey) continues to produce and take pressure off of (Robinson).”

Withey’s not done developing. Once he starts taking and making the open 15-footers — Self twice has selected him to shoot technical free throws, including in the second half Monday — he’ll become even tougher to guard on a team that already has Robinson and Taylor giving defenses fits.

This KU team is so much better than anybody could have guessed, and Withey and the guy who drove him to be tougher than anybody could have guessed deserve a great deal of the credit.

Comments

Mike Kendall 2 years, 2 months ago

I am sure everyone read the last three paragraphs of this article. Man, that really gets me fired up for the Post-Season! The last three paragraphs---I will use HCBS's term---really gets me juiced up!

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William Blake 2 years, 2 months ago

That one play where Mr. W put on the defensive scrap and then led the charge on the fast break and got the slam was the most-impressive sequence in Kansas basketball history I have ever seen from a true 5-spot player.

I've been a KU fan for 50+ years, so I have witnessed my share of talent swing through Lawrence.

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tauck 2 years, 2 months ago

Here is an IDEA coach Self Quit taking Withey out a the end of games!!! Leave him in for defensive purposes, and then late in the game set a pick for him, throw the inbounds pass to him, let him get fouled and then let him take the two free throws. Seems like a no brainer to me ? I realize it goes away from every game ending in-bounds play ever drawn up by a head coach, but PLEASE coach to your talents, it is what we pay you for!!! (On a side note, this is Bill Selfs best coaching job defensively by far, but the late game Withey moves are baffling).

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justinryman 2 years, 2 months ago

Can't believe Jeff didn't get his nose broke on the put back by Thomas. His forearm landed square a crossed his nose. Maybe the squareness saved it from being broken?

But liked to see the hustle from both guys on that play and not just assuming that the other would get it.

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Rock Chalk 2 years, 2 months ago

I have such immense pride for Jeff, T-Rob & Tyshawn especially, but this whole team overall. Really proud of them. I just bust with happiness when I see Jeff's face after he's done something spectacular. He's working so hard, so determined, and really humble. It's a great story. Great, great job, Jeff! Keep it going, guys!

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jhawkrulz 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm all for the Withey Press and he has done extremely well, but those of you second guessing TRob are missing the true beauty of what TRob is doing.

TRob everytime he goes down the court, he has one person guarding him with another shadowing him. Once the ball gets to him, there are three to four people on him. I saw many posts (including from me) that said TRob needs to learn to pass out of the double team...he has been doing that, but more importantly, TT has a second option when he goes in. JWithey isn't getting pushed around, he is finishing more (don't forget Withey got blocked like three times during that game, because he didn't finish).

In summary my rambles are to say that TRob has made Withey a better player and don't lose sight of that.

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REHawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Heck, coaching topnotch Division I hoops now appears to be much less complex than originally thought. Forget all the Xs and Os. Debunk the psychological hoopla. For our very own winning mentor, success has boiled down to two things: Step up on this treadmill, Brandon! Tromp your tennies up and down every one of those stairtreads, Jeff! Rock Chalk!

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REHawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Congratulations, Jeff, on a dandy contribution toward that win at Bramlage. You have nailed snugly another audition for consecutive Big 12 Player of the Week. Keep a'comin', Big Fella. Just when Big 12 opponents think they have fathomed a means to derail the Jayhawk system, you have stepped up to throw a huge wrench into their preparations. Your intensity and performance certainly won the praises of Bill Self and Frank Martin yesterday. What a 3-game run!

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HawkKlaw 2 years, 2 months ago

KU before Withey's three game dominance = Mediocore KU with Withey dominating = A very good chance at winning the Big 12 Tournament and a decent chance at winning the NCAA Tournament

Keep it up Jeff!

At the beginning of the season, I though that our guards (+ TRob) were going to have to lead KU to greatness. I thought we were just too weak in the post, especially with Traylor and Anderson getting denied by the NCAA. Now, though, it is obvious that WIthey and TRob are the core of KU's offense. We still don't have an ounce of depth in the post, but if KU is going to do damage in March, Withey and TRob are going to have to be the main facilitators of that. It appears that they are up for the challenge.

This season has been stranger than most. That's fine by me. Rock chalk!

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Vittorio1224 2 years, 2 months ago

It bears repeating: Jayhawk fans cannot underestimate (and I think for the most part, we don't!) the AMAZING job Danny Manning is doing with "bigs" who come into KU merely hoping to be good, and then they leave with NBA aspirations. Rock Chalk Danny!

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RCJHGOKANSAS 2 years, 2 months ago

Really awesome to see this year's team improvement.

We can't get tickets to the Misery game but we plan on driving to Lawrence just to watch the game in a bar (we live in Des Moines). Anybody know a great place to watch the game in Lawrence?

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Janet Olin 2 years, 2 months ago

Great job, Jeff! Keep up the ferocity and high energy. Let's give Travis props for big D on McGruder as well.

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Konkis Dongington III 2 years, 2 months ago

6 more weeks of this from Whithey and we'll be hanging a banner. No longer can teams just double and triple team TRob and expect to throw a wrench into the engine. On a side note, WTF with ESPN doing a complete 180 on the TRob Davis debate. I know the 'cats are looking like the title favorite, but what's that got to do with the player of the year race? TRob leads Davis in 3 of 5 statistical categories, only behind him in blocks and steals. TRob is our main offensive weapon even when he isn't scoring simply because he draws so much heat. All of the * holes on EasternBiasSportsNetwork keep saying you gotta give it to Davis cause of the blocks. WTF?!? How about give it to the player who came from a humble beginning, worked his ass off and became the best player in his position in the country. How about give it to the guy whose body of work is the difference between his team floundering and his team soaring to the top of the heap. How about give it to the guy who averages a double double and is the only one in the coutnry averaging anything close to 18pts, 12 rebs on any given night. If I met Dick Vitale or any one else from ESPN giving me that look at the blocks BS I'd break his nose. What a bunch of horse sh*t.

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nuleafjhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Is anyone else as stoked as I am to see what Withey does in the NEXT missouri game?

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ardy682 2 years, 2 months ago

Jeff Withey is one of my favorites to watch on this team as of late... After all my ex and I broke up over him (She said he sucked and I said she didn't know basketball and it escalated)... Now we see who was correct and on the flip side I am spending Valentines day a lone. Happy Valentine's day Jayhawk nation...

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Robert Brock 2 years, 2 months ago

I would never have guessed that Jeff Withey would become our designated free throw shooter. Remarkable.

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KUFan90 2 years, 2 months ago

Withey is outplaying T - Rob right now.

I would have bet my left nut I'd never see those words in print.

Is it time to start asking if we are really sure he comes back for his senior season? You going to try and tell me no NBA team would use a pick on him based on "potential"?

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Lindsey Buscher 2 years, 2 months ago

"...Self, a football coach who dresses, smiles and sees the court like a basketball coach."

Wut?

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connhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

I absolutely love watching this team. I don't think we have any real shot at a national title given our inconsistency, but these kids are really fun to watch. It's been amazing seeing Thomas live up to everyone's expectations, and seeing Jeff and Tyshawn completely surpass them.

Elijah and Travis have been pretty solid contributors with a few good games each. I'm really hoping these two will "wake up" like Jeff did. I know they both have the talent.

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s6u6r6f 2 years, 2 months ago

Withey has transformed himself into a stud. He'll be a force next year, and the triple double is just a matter of time. Great job today retaking the hawktogon of doom; I love owning Manhattan. Rock chalk.

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dw3c 2 years, 2 months ago

As mich as I do not like k-state, Frank Martin is a classy guy and a hell of a coach.

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ku_tailg8 2 years, 2 months ago

I only hope, come crunch time, Withey can play PG. He is our best free throw shooter.

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jgkojak 2 years, 2 months ago

Who would have thought we'd be in the running for a 1 seed this year?

And now saving a year of eligibility for McLemore and Traylor next year seems smart! Though... imagine what this team would look like w/those two coming off the bench?

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Calijhawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Jeff, I gotta admit. For the first half of the season, I called you "Wimpy Withey".

I'm not calling you that anymore.

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Ferd Magellan 2 years, 2 months ago

The man has been a beast since the MU game. I wonder if the national media will say that he's a lock for national player of the year like they've been saying about Anthony Davis since his last game. I mean, blocked shots are all that matter correct? Has Withey been any less of a "game-changer" than Davis the last 3 games against vastly superior competition?

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Ferd Magellan 2 years, 2 months ago

The man has been a beast since the MU game. I wonder if the national media will say that he's a lock for national player of the year like they've been saying about Anthony Davis since his last game. I mean, blocked shots are all that matter correct? Has Withey been any less of a "game-changer" than Davis the last 3 games against vastly superior competition?

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cuzicare 2 years, 2 months ago

I really love this team. Coming from such low pre-season expectations in the conference to where people are now talking about them as a number 1 NCAA seed, that feels good, and I'm just a fan. I love TRob, but I also love seeing Withey come alive recently. And TT (turnovers, drives, treys and all) and Conner and Travis after waiting their turns, and, and, and,,,,they're all fun to watch, I'd put them all on mention. Thanks, guys, for playing hard. Of course, gotta give the coaches, all of them, their due credit--the team doesn't do what it does without them. I love this team.

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jayhawker_97 2 years, 2 months ago

this seems familiar. we used to have bad TT, now look how he plays now. JW - another successful transformation work in the midst of the season. beautiful.. just beautiful.

:D

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april28 2 years, 2 months ago

Stay focused gentlemen....it's within reach.

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Alohahawk 2 years, 2 months ago

Congratulations again, Jeff. You're getting a lot of deserved press now. And it was great you read the riot act to the team during that time out. Way to assert yourself.

I've been confident most of the season that Withey has the best chance of anyone of getting a triple-double. He's flirted with it a number of times now and if he continues to improve over the last few regular season games, there's no reason why he can't get one (or more) before the season ends.

I have one major worry regarding Jeff. Now that he has reached this level, I hope he stays for his senior season. KU needs him to anchor the middle next year, just like TRob was needed this year.

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