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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Time to shine: Withey’s long wait, hard work paying off

Kansas University center Jeff Withey talks with media during interviews Tuesday, March 27, 2012, outside the KU team locker room. The KU men's basketball team heads to New Orleans Wednesday in advance of the Final Four.

Kansas University center Jeff Withey talks with media during interviews Tuesday, March 27, 2012, outside the KU team locker room. The KU men's basketball team heads to New Orleans Wednesday in advance of the Final Four.

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The college basketball dream Jeff Withey lives — preparing to go to the Final Four after swatting so many key shots that helped his team reach New Orleans — started more like a nightmare packed with cruel teases.

His signed out of Horizon High in San Diego to play for Lute Olson at Arizona, and when the Hall of Fame coach retired, Withey wanted out. The school initially told him he would not be granted a release from his scholarship. His father, Mike, was five minutes from hiring an attorney to try to make it happen when his son finally was set free in December 2008.

Because he had enrolled at Arizona, Withey was not eligible to join the Kansas basketball team on the court until second semester of his redshirt-freshman year, on Dec. 29, 2009 against Belmont. Already playing behind Cole Aldrich, Marcus and Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson in the frontcourt, Withey’s workout time lost that fall because of a right-knee stress fracture didn’t help. He appeared in 15 games and played 45 minutes in the 2009-2010 season, showing promise by totaling 19 points, 21 rebounds and six blocked shots. Other than in an eight-point, five-rebound effort in 12 minutes of a victory in Ames, Iowa, he never played double-digit minutes.

The departure of Aldrich to the NBA that summer gave Withey a shot at significantly more playing time as a sophomore, but bad luck again hunted down the 7-footer. He broke the metatarsal in his right foot during individual workouts in late September 2010, had surgery and spent several weeks on crutches while his teammates became better.

He needed to gain weight but lost 15 pounds.

“I was stuck in bed,” Withey said. “I couldn’t really move. It was hard to get to the kitchen. It was hard to get anywhere. My armpits were sore just from crutching everywhere. Coming into that year, I thought I was going to be a big contributor, and then I had the foot problem, and it set me back so far I felt like I just kind of lost my chance to contribute and play. It was really depressing.”

Withey reached double-digit minutes in six games and never scored in double figures. He didn’t play in two of the four 2011 NCAA Tournament games and played two minutes apiece in the other games, both blowouts.

Now look at him. Midway through Withey’s junior season, in February, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association named him the Oscar Robertson national player of the week after he scored a career-high 25 points against Baylor and had a career-best 20 rebounds against Oklahoma State. In his next game, he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocked shots against Kansas State.

Withey earned Big 12 defensive player of the year honors. Not many 7-footers shoot technical free throws for their teams, but Withey does, thanks to a .794 percentage from the line.

In playing Kansas into the Final Four, Withey blocked 10 shots in a three-point victory against North Carolina State and had 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a 13-point victory against North Carolina’s ballyhooed front line. His defensive dominance played a big part in UNC making one of its final 14 shots and none of its last seven. His two blocked shots in the final minutes triggered fast breaks. He earned first-team All-Midwest Region honors, along with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

Withey credits his volleyball experience — starting on the beach in his middle school years and progressing to indoor volleyball on a club team (which cost his parents $500 a month) — for developing the timing to block shots. He not only blocks shots, he sometimes uses the blocks to start fast breaks by tapping the ball forward. He even has been known to block a shot, catch it and toss it ahead to get KU’s speedy guards on their way.

All the setbacks along the way to becoming such a force in college basketball were not time wasted, according to Withey.

“It definitely made me a lot tougher,” he said. “When I come out and play, I don’t take it for granted at all.”

He credited his coach with playing a role in his increased toughness as well.

The most publicized instance of Bill Self’s fury aimed Withey’s way came in a practice after the center went scoreless in the loss to Missouri in Columbia on Feb. 4. Self made Withey run every step of Allen Fieldhouse, just before the center went on a tear that earned him national honors.

“It definitely makes you pretty upset,” Withey said. “After that, I had something to prove to him.”

Self still finds ways to prod his center into a foul mood.

“He definitely challenges me all the time, in practice, before the game,” Withey said. “He knows how to get me hyped up before a game. Sometimes, I definitely need that. That challenge gets me going. Sometimes it’s hard to jump-start my motor. I’m laid-back, so it’s hard for me to get, I guess, super angry and ready for games. It’s kind of easy now that we’re in the tournament.”

Self starts the motor. Withey’s dunks and blocked shots spark it to a higher speed.

“Those are really emotional plays and those get me fired up and get the fans fired up,” Withey said. “Whenever the fans get fired up, that helps me too. I feed off the energy of the crowd.”

And the team feeds off his defensive dominance.

Comments

Jeeveshawk 2 years ago

Jeff will be our best big next year and possibly our best player. Also we really need him to step up against Sully this weekend. Whats sad is he may not get to play because Deshaun Thomas creates mismatches at the four, so we may need to move TRob to the 5 to guard Sully and have Kevin play the four to guard D. Thomas on the perimeter.

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Martin Rosenblum 2 years ago

Any rumors about Joe Dooley leaving? With Hinson and Manning gone, it seems odd that Dooley would not be under serious consideration for a HC job in a D1 school. I don't relish the idea of a "rebuilding" year on the coaching staff. But, it's going to happen when talent is there, as it obviously has been.

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Priest Fontaine 2 years ago

funny it's taking www.kusports.com so long to report Manning leaving.

Anyhow, I wonder why these coaches can't wait a few more days to announce this stuff. Isn't it kind of distracting for the upcoming games?

Regardless, anyone have the inside scoop on Manny's replacement?

First to come to mind: -Simien -Pollard -Jeff Boschee has been assistant coaching -Larry Brown has been expressing interest in coaching again and hanging around KU...

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KansasComet 2 years ago

Danny Manning to Tulsa. I guess it had to happen sooner or later.

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Ethan Berger 2 years ago

For a good laugh in this serious week.

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2 years ago

Regarding whether Jeff Withey should go to the NBA after this season or not, here is a quick comparison of his stats so far this season to Cole Aldrich’s his junior (final) year:

Jeff (season): 24.4 min, 54.8% FG, 79.4% FT, 9.2 pts, 6.2 rebs, 3.5 bls (conference): 25.8 min, 53.8% FG, 80.7% FT, 10.3 pts, 6.6 rebs, 3.6 bls

Cole: 29.6 min, 59.8% FG, 79.2% FT, 14.9 pts, 11.1 rebs, 2.7 bls

In fairness, Withey has improved in the second half of the season. However, when comparing both players’ junior seasons as a whole, I would say the extent of Jeff flirting with the NBA should not go beyond submitting his name for the draft without hiring an agent so he can test the waters. With him most likely being relied on more next season, he has the potential of improving his NBA status significantly.

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kdeutch 2 years ago

First, let me say that I think a student athelete should stay all 4 years. However, after seeing the list of all the injuries for Jeff Withey, I would go to the NBA NOW if I was him.

Also, next year will be his 5th year, which probably will make him appear too old in the 2013 NBA draft. If Jeff projects to be a first round choice in the 2012 draft, I'm sorry to say, he MUST leave.

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Steve Gantz 2 years ago

Jeff's last two blocks may have been the easiest all season. The UNC guard foolishly, and I mean I was almost yelling at the little dude not to try it, he foolishly drove the lane twice, and if memory serves, Withey swatted them out to TT and EJ for two game clinching fast break layups.

I'm not sure I would have ever seen an article about Withey helping lead his team to the final 4! I'm glad I did though!

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JayHawkFanToo 2 years ago

And now, in honor of the San Diego surfer/volleyball player-Basketball beast dude, check the following for an uplifting experience...

http://coedmagazine.com/2010/03/21/kansas-jayhawks-cheerleader-pictures/

Be sure to view the entire gallery.

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swunruhawk 2 years ago

Jeff is not even considering NBA. He's coming back for a great Senior year.

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Tony Bandle 2 years ago

I know my good buddy,Jaybate, gets criticized on this post, but he was and has stayed on the Jeff Withey bandwagon long before any of us hopped on and off and on again.

JB, if you see this post, if Jeff continues his heroics for the next two games, does he go NBA with TRob and TT or does he come back as one of the premier college big man in the natiion next year??

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Sally Presson 2 years ago

This article just shows us there is always a flip side to a situation. Glad you suck with us Jeff through all your injuries and healing. Your hard work is paying off and boy do we need you. Thank goodness we have you next year. KU fans have so much to be thankful for with this team, you guys are amazing!!!

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UmbertoConforti 2 years ago

The "smart money" has KU a two and one-half point underdog against OSU. It has Louisville and even larger underdog against Kentucky. Here's hoping for a KU v. Louisville final. I think that the last year Louisville won it all KU beat them in pre-season NIT but lost to Duke in the fnal four. That's the game where Duke unintentionally injured Archie Marshall ending his BB career and a foul wasn't called. I hope my memory is working today. Go Jayhawks, Go Cardinals.

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William Blake 2 years ago

Mr. W... the heck with Davis and Sullinger... this is YOUR tournament to dominate!

Life is a one-shot deal, so here is your opportunity to create an awesome memory of your college days. Make the most of it!

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Chris Shaw 2 years ago

In the 4 postseason games in the NCAA tournament, Jeff Withey is leading the country in Blocks and is currently tied for 6th all-time in blocks in a single NCAA Tournament. Pretty Impressive if you ask me!

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/statistics/player/_/stat/blocks/year/2012/seasontype/3/group/50

For the year though, Withey has 129 blocks in 37 games and Davis has 175 blocks in 38 games thus far

Davis has already made the list, but what he's done this year as a Freshmen is pretty darn impressive. Here are the all-time block leaders in one season. I guess these type of numbers haven't been done except Alonzo Mourning when he was a freshman! Wow!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NCAA_Division_I_men's_basketball_season_blocks_leaders

Took me forever to find this, but here is the current list. Jeff Withey doing some damage. You would think he could at least get 2 against OSU to move into 4th. May not be there long considering what Davis does?

Most Blocked Shots •29, Joakim Noah, Florida, 2006 (6 games) •24, Loren Woods, Arizona, 2001 (6 games) •23, David Robinson, Navy, 1986 (4) •21, Ken Johnson, Ohio State, 1999 (5) •21, Kevin Love, UCLA, 2008 (5) •20, Tim Perry, Temple, 1988 (4

Interesting stats if you want to take a look

http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/ncaa-tournament/history/tournindyrec

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clevelandjayhawker 2 years ago

I always say im never going to read another keegan article, then i give in. I never learn.

"....North Carolina’s ballyhooed front line." WTF does that mean?

Keep the dream alive, beat ohio state.

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Gene Jackson 2 years ago

This story should be an inspiration to any aspiring basketball player wanting to play at the college level. Way to go, Jeff!

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Martin Rosenblum 2 years ago

I'm surprised that DManning's name was not mentioned at all in this story. Hudy's name was also absent. If ever there were factors responsible for such a turnaround that were the team's assets, it would be directly related to those two people. Jeff has the physical gifts. But, his development couldn't have happened without Danny's daily oversight and Hudy's attention to his needs for strength conditioning. Of course, HCBS provides the motivation and strategic guidance that Jeff admits he needs and appreciates.

Just think, Jeff is two games away from doing what the Morris twins didn't do and that Cole, as a freshman, had little influence in, a National Championship. What a story, what a turnaround! This Is Kansas Basketball!

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Keith Hummel 2 years ago

What a joy it's been to watch this kid develop. At the beginning of the year I was screaming at him through the television because he wouldn't stop putting the ball on the floor and wouldn't go to the basket. Hard to believe looking at how he plays now. I thought he was the biggest factor in that UNC game. I watched Zeller push T-Rob all over the place, but when Withey was in the game it was a different story. I know Robinson is stronger, so maybe it was a leverage thing, but it proved to me how tough Jeff is now. Another off-season with Hudy and he will be a beast in the paint.

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HAWKTOPIA 2 years ago

Jeff has come a long way. But he still has so much potential. You can see him "Manning" up around the basket, but he needs to become more powerful. I really appreciate that he does not reach in too much and stands tall, trying to stay out of foul trouble. Jeff has also had an inspirational role in raising the expectation of every player to convert free throws.

One player can be the difference for a team. Be that player!

We only need to win one more game. The next game!

Rock Chalk

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KUWorldTraveler 2 years ago

Just FYI, looks like we're out on Shabazz. I'd link to the article but it's an ESPN Insider article with Dave Telep. Says Shabazz is down to UCLA, Duke, and Kentucky (in no order). Not shocked at all, and I don't think it's that big of a loss. I'm over having one-and-dones coming to KU. The last two haven't worked out that great. Gimme a three year guy any day.

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jayhawker_97 2 years ago

no need to comment his tenacious D. he's another freakin' beast. on a side note, i see more & more guards penetration from our team. that's good - very good. but don't forget that we've got bigs who are waiting to be fed. EJ knows how to pass to our bigs when he sees bigs defenders coming. TT needs to just lob the ball when he's being sandwitched - somebody will pick it up. Withey has gotten so much better in anticipating the interior passes. i'm so hungry to see him rip apart the basket like he did vs NC. let's go Jayhawk!

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KULA 2 years ago

Ah Jeff--my new project. I've been disgruntled the last two years at his lack of playing time. Couldn't ever understand it, cuz I don't think I've ever seen him look bad in his limited playing time (how bad can you look in two minutes?). I fully expected him to play the same roll that Cole did in '08--come in for 4 minutes per half, spell the starters and gain some valuable game experience. And the high/low between Jeff and Cole would've been(and was in limited exposure) simply unstoppable. I felt like Bill wasted his first two years. Especially when it looked to me like Jeff was more agile than Cole, could run the floor better, had a better shooting touch and would probably end up being a better shot blocker. But that's all water under the bridge now. I'm just a fan watching on TV. Bill sees him every day in practice and made his decision. Maybe it was just his laid back San Diego lifestyle (I can understand that) that held him back. But it's amazing to see Jeff blossoming now and turning into a force.

They need to start a new stat for Jeff--blocked shots that result in a turnover. I've never seen a player block so many shots and come down with possession, or tap it out to a teammate. You can bet if a player back east had as many as Jeff, you'd never hear the end of it from the TV talking heads.

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