When Greg Ostertag is not fishing, golfing or running “a little spice business called Smokehouse Salt Company,” he’s monitoring the progress of Kansas University’s basketball team.
Like last year, that means watching fellow 7-footer Jeff Withey block shot after shot and creep ever so closer to his own school-record block total of 258 set from 1992 to ’95.
Withey needs seven blocks Saturday against Oklahoma State (3 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse) to tie and eight rejections to pass Ostertag as No. 1 human eraser in school annals.
“You know what? The record wasn’t going to stand forever. Absolutely I’m happy for him,” Ostertag told the Journal-World in a phone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I held the record for 20 years. Barring anything crazy happening to him, his record will probably stand for 20 years ... then it’ll be broken.
“I’m proud to have held the record at a prestigious school like KU for as long as I did,” Ostertag added. “You’ve got to look at it ... Jeff hardly played his first two years. If he played as much as he did the last two years he’d probably have broken it last year. Same with me. For my career, I averaged 18 minutes a game or something like that. Had I played more, my block total would have been higher. I’m absolutely happy for him. I think it’s cool to have held onto it for so long.”
The 39-year-old Ostertag is pleased that a category such as blocks is getting so much attention at KU.
Another shot blocker deluxe, Cole Aldrich (2008-10) is No. 2 on the all-time rejection list (253). Just a couple years ago he was pushing for Ostertag’s record.
“A lot of people don’t see it as a high-end stat. They say, ‘it’s just blocked shots,’” Ostertag said. “You’ve got to think of all the shots all shot blockers have blocked and guestimate the shots they changed. For all 258 blocks I had I probably changed triple that (amount). It was cool when I broke Danny’s record,” he said of Danny Manning, now seventh on the all-time block list with 200 (1985-88). “It’s cool for Jeff I’m sure to break a record.”
Withey has said many times he’d like to become not only KU’s all-time shot blocker, but the Big 12’s block leader (Texas’ Chris Mihm had 264 from 1997-2000).
But, “it’s not consuming my head,” Withey said. “I know I’m going to get it sooner or later. If I can get it this game it’d be awesome. It’s definitely an honor to be in the same category as all the guys in front of me now. It’s my goal to get it, but I’m worried about winning the game first.”
Withey, who hails from San Diego — Ostertag is originally from Duncanville, Texas — said he’s humbled to be close to passing ‘The Big O.’
“I didn’t know much about him. I remember everybody calling him ‘Big Country’ or something like that,” Withey said. “He was a great player in the NBA (Utah, Sacramento for 11 years). Growing up, I didn’t know much about KU. He went to KU. By the time you are a senior you learn about that kind of stuff,” Withey added.
Ostertag has visited with Aldrich in the past, but has not yet met Withey.
He knows Withey’s game, however, from watching numerous games on TV.
“He is more athletic than a lot of big centers,” the 7-foot-2, 280-pound Ostertag said of the 7-foot, 235-pound Withey. “He has a good eye for the ball, good timing. He’s good on the help side. What he does really well is he stays on the floor, lets guys basically put the ball in his hands. He’s good at going up and blocking the shot at the highest point.”
Like Ostertag and Aldrich, Withey tries to not hammer the ball into the stands.
“That’s important. That’s an extra possession,” Ostertag said. “There are times to go up and try to throw one into the 14th row, to get everybody going, get the crowd into it. Any chance I had to keep the ball in play and get it back, that’s what I was trying to do.”
Ditto Withey, who remembers batting the ball into the stands against one certain opponent.
“I don’t try to throw it out of bounds because that’s a waste,” Withey said. “I try to either tip it up in the air or keep it in play. I did it last year against Kentucky. I think the first two blocks I threw ‘em in the stands. We lost that game. I’m not going to do that any more. Normally my teammates are so used to it, they see it coming and can get in the right position.”
Withey is hoping to copy Ostertag and Aldrich and have a career in the NBA.
“I think so. That’s what I do,” Withey said, asked if he can envision himself blocking shots in the pros. “I did it in high school. I did it in college. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to block shots in the NBA. It’d be awesome. It took me a little bit of time in college to get used to the speed of the game. I think eventually I can be as effective in NBA as college.”
Ostertag noted: “I’m sure he will (play in NBA). I’m sure somebody will give him a chance, somebody will pick him up because he’s tall, he’s a shot blocker, he’s athletic, he can run the floor. He has soft touch around the basket. I definitely wish him the best.”
As far as a ‘Big O’ update ... Ostertag’s son, Cody, is a freshman basketball player at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.
“It’s a little NAIA school here in town. He broke his foot and is redshirting,” he said of the 6-foot-8 Cody Ostertag, who spent a couple summers attending Bill Self’s KU basketball camps.
And, what about this spice business?
“They are premium smoked spices,” he said. “All have been smoked in real hickory — salt, pepper, garlic, onion, jalapeno, different blends in there for fish, poultry, all that good stuff.”
Information on Ostertag’s company can be found here.