Thomas Robinson doesn’t become the nation’s only unanimous first-team All-American and finish second in the Player of the Year voting without having the perfect complement to him doing all the things that brought out the best in him.
Jeff Withey’s remarkable shot-blocking ability enabled Robinson to play less aggressively on defense to stay out of foul trouble and conserve energy for crashing the glass and scoring.
Withey’s ability to catch the ball and either throw down dunks or knock down free throws gave foes reason not to run the entire defense at Robinson.
Withey enabled Robinson to be what he was, the second-best college basketball player in the nation.
Now someone needs to emerge as the perfect complement to Withey to enable him to be who he is, a great shot-blocker and a potential go-to scorer, a 7-footer blessed with a soft touch and deft footwork. Strange as it sounds considering how overmatched he looked at times as recently as his sophomore year, he has developed into a darkhorse candidate for first-team All-American honors, a guy with a good shot at becoming an NBA lottery pick. But he won’t get there without relentless help in the paint.
A banger Withey is not, so the guy playing alongside him needs to be a physical presence, and he needs to be a swift athlete who can sky for boards and run the floor like a guard in both directions.
Perry Ellis has so much talent, such a good aptitude, he’ll find a way onto the court for a ton of minutes as a freshman, but he doesn’t qualify as the perfect complement to Withey in terms of a basketball bodyguard. Wiry Kevin Young’s energy comes in handy off the bench. Zach Peters, a high school football player, has the profile, but he’s a freshman. Landen Lucas plays with confidence and aggressiveness, but he’ll likely need time to develop.
Jamari Traylor, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound red-shirt freshman from Chicago, hits the boards and anybody in his way hard. He’s explosive, runs the floor well and has the look of a guy who will play with a mean streak.
Practices are closed to the media, so his game remains a mystery, but those who played against him and with him in practice raved about his explosiveness and strength.
Traylor and Ben McLemore, the 6-5, 185 shooting guard from St. Louis, were restricted by the NCAA to practicing and even at that just for the second semester because of academic concerns. McLemore has generated more excitement because he was rated much higher in high school (34th, compared to 141st by Rivals.com) and mixes fancy jams with a feathery three-point touch. But it’s conceivable Traylor could have the biggest impact of the eight newcomers, even though five of the others were ranked higher in their high school classes than Traylor was in his.