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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bigger, badder Jeff Withey better blocker

Kansas center Jeff Withey looks for a block against Ohio State forward Sam Thompson during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Kansas center Jeff Withey looks for a block against Ohio State forward Sam Thompson during the first half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

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The third-leading shot blocker — soon-to-be No. 1 human eraser in Kansas University basketball history — does not look all that menacing on the court.

“I think people see Jeff, and he’s so thin. I think other teams think they are going to push him around, and when they get in games they realize they can’t push him around,” said KU assistant coach Norm Roberts, who works with the Jayhawk big men at practice every day. “Jeff has done a great job. He’s a lot tougher than what people think.”

Withey, who is listed 7-foot, 235 pounds, needs seven blocks during today’s 3 p.m. home game against Oklahoma State (14-5, 4-3) to tie, eight to pass, Greg Ostertag as KU’s all-time blocks leader.

The Withey who starts at center for the Jayhawks (19-1, 7-0) today is a lot stronger and sturdier than the player who arrived as a transfer from the University of Arizona in January of 2009.

“He was thin. He was lean. He needed more muscle mass, obviously,” said Andrea Hudy, KU associate athletic director for sports performance, who is head of KU basketball’s strength program. “We fine-tuned the type of athlete Jeff has become. All the credit goes to Jeff because of all the hard work he’s put in, for sure.”

Withey has had three games with seven or more rejections his senior season — and seven games of seven or more blocks his junior campaign. He acknowledges it has taken a lot of sweat to be on the verge of setting the all-time school blocks record.

“It’s a ton of work after you get here,” said Withey, who has put on 20 pounds since arriving as a 215-pounder. “It (work) is the difference between somebody who will struggle in our program and someone who will excel. Once you get here, it starts. We emphasize to the young guys, it doesn’t just happen. It takes time and work to get to be the best and win championships.”

Withey still drinks the protein shakes he guzzled with regularity as a freshman.

“My body ... I’ve been here so long, my metabolism is probably slowing down a little bit,” Withey said. “Coach Hudy does a great job in getting us strong. Finally, all the years are starting to pay off.”

Hudy acknowledged it has been a long, satisfying process.

“Jeff has become a good worker. I don’t think he worked when he got here from high school, but he learned. With the technology we have now, the (strength) numbers are there (for him),” Hudy said. “I think as coaches and athletes, your life is about reps. If you come to Kansas, you will get reps on the basketball court and reps in the weight room. It’s consistent reps.”

As far as the art of shot blocking, San Diego native Withey — it has been well documented — learned a lot about timing and motion playing volleyball.

Fellow Californian Eric Chenowith, KU’s fifth-leading shot-blocker in history with 242 (Withey has 251, Cole Aldrich 253 and Ostertag 258), can see why.

“Volleyball always helps guys develop jumping skills,” Chenowith said. “There’s a thing called an approach, where you go to spike the volleyball. That same motion is involved in basketball blocking shots. It helps you get off the floor quicker.”

Withey has a knack for his ability to keep the blocks in play.

“I think he does that best of all,” Roberts said. “He’s the best in the country at that. A lot of times, guys block a shot and knock it out of bounds and want to beat their chest and want to feel good about themselves, but the other team is getting the ball back. It doesn’t matter with Jeff. He blocks it, keeps it in play and it leads to our fast break.”

Withey doesn’t think too much about what he’s doing when he blocks a shot. A lot of it is just reacting.

“The key? Having long arms helps,” said Withey, who averages 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. “I think I can jump high. It’s probably timing, for sure. There’s a lot of tall guys out there that can’t block shots. It’s something you can’t really learn. It’s something you just have, I guess. It’s what I do.”

Withey’s shot-blocking ability — he has 86 this season in 20 games (just 18 in the last seven games with teams becoming more wary) — has helped him become one of 12 finalists for Oscar Robertson Player of the Year. He figures to be a top-10 candidate for the Wooden Award and Naismith Player of the Year as well.

“I’m starting to think he does,” KU coach Bill Self said, asked if Withey gets enough credit nationally. “People are taking notice of what a great year he’s having. One of the reasons Jeff’s (blocking) numbers are going down blocking shots is because less teams are shooting inside the paint. Teams are really trying to attack us outside the paint, which is OK. But that’s one reason why I think his numbers are going down a little bit.”

Whether he ties or breaks the record today, if Withey stays healthy, it’s coming sooner rather than later.

“I’m proud of him,” Self said. “He’s worked hard. I’m really excited for him.”

About Oklahoma State: OSU is 4-3 in Big 12 play after a 78-76 home victory over Iowa State on Wednesday. OSU is 11-1 at home, 0-4 on the road and 3-0 on neutral courts. The Cowboys average 71.1 points and allow 59.2.

Junior guard Markel Brown averages a team-leading 14.8 points per game. Freshman guard Marcus Smart averages 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and a league-leading 2.8 steals. Sophomore guard/forward Le’Bryan Nash averages 13.5 points and 4.4 boards. Freshman guard Phil Forte, son of former KU football player Phil Forte, averages 11.9 ppg.

KU recruited both Smart and Nash.

“They’ll both play in the league,” Self said. “Markel Brown could too. He is arguably — we’ve got a guy who’s pretty athletic (Ben McLemore) — but arguably, Markel Brown is the best athlete in our league.”

Of Smart, Self said: “I thought Marcus Smart could be the national freshman of the year back when he was in high school (Marcus High, Flower Mound, Texas) and he still can. He’s terrific. He’s got size, but the thing about him that I like so much — and I think everybody likes so much — is that he impacts a program from a personality standpoint as much as anybody can in America. He’s a take-charge guy. He’s a winner. Certainly, (he’s) going to be a pro and I think he’s absolutely terrific.”

The series: KU leads Oklahoma State, 106-53. KU has won four straight and five of the last six in the series. KU holds a 43-8 record in Allen Fieldhouse where the Jayhawks have won the last 16 meetings. Since the inception of the Big 12 Conference, KU is 16-6 versus OSU (12-4 in regular-season play and 4-2 in the Big 12 Championship). KU coach Bill Self is 10-7 all-time against his alma mater, including 9-4 while at KU. Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford is 1-5 versus KU.

Comments

nostradavid 8 years, 1 month ago

In reference to: "does not look all that menacing on the court" - Jeff can give folks a pretty mean look when he's serious. It looks intimidating to me. He's a lot of fun to watch on offense and defense.

Pekka Markkanen was a good shot blocker for the short time he was here. He intimidated Shaq when LSU was #2, and helped put the record blowout on Kain'tucky.

Pekka blocks Kentucky

Pekka blocks Kentucky by nostradavid

Tim Orel 8 years, 1 month ago

Just noticed KU not only has a 2-1 all-time margin over OSU, but I watched the KSU game from earlier this season and KU had a 2-1 all-time margin over KSU as well. In both situations, it's been even more lopsided the last few years. I like it.

jaybate 8 years, 1 month ago

Jeff makes the biggest defensive impact on a game of any college center I have seen the last ten years. I have never seen teams just quit trying to score inside like this, except against some of the super centers of the past. He isn't just blocking and altering shots. He has developed the sixth sense of how to close off driving alleys and the seventh sene of not over committing. He has good defensive footwork. And he jumps well when he does jump.

Kudos to Norm Roberts who seems to have helped Jeff and Kevin alot in their getting on competitive edges and consistency staying there. Despite Perry's early struggles, he has progressed steadily. And Jamari, though he is working through a plateau, seems on track as well. Rock Chalk Coach Roberts. You were filling some big shoes, and apparently the size was right.

KansasComet 8 years, 1 month ago

Bigs are going to be great next year too! Coach Self always finds a way.

Boouk 8 years, 1 month ago

I assume that you are considering Anthony Davis a PF. If so, then you could be right about Withey being the best shot-blocking/altering center collegebasketball has seen the last 10 years. Roy Hibbert and Hasheem Thabeet were great shot-blockers, but because Withey keeps so many in bounds, I'd say he's the best. Offensively, I think Jeff should get more touches in the post. His post game is way better than it was last year, and he has a huge size advantage against many of the teams we play, including OSU today.

Michael Bennett 8 years, 1 month ago

Wait...Withey played volleyball in high school??

mejayhawk 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes. Jeff is from a mythical land, far to the west, where the people make "moving pictures," they eat raw fish and there is a lake so big it swallows the sun every evening.

Seriously, dude has huge hands. Anyone elso noticed?

PhearThePhog 8 years, 1 month ago

While I agree Coach Roberts has done a great job with the Bigs this year ... the guy making the most noise has the Coach Manning stamp all over him. Kudos to Coach Manning as well for another in an impressive series of NBA-ready Big Men.

Joel Thomas 8 years, 1 month ago

Manning deserves a ton of credit, and his departure was bittersweet, but let's not make any rulings just yet. Roberts et al bring with them their bona fides as well.

FinalFour1993 8 years, 1 month ago

When Manning left, Coach Self commented that he's (HCBS) the one who does the primary work with the big guys, did he not?

Brianna Zaleski 8 years, 1 month ago

Do u think Manning worked with the guards?

Robert Murphy 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes. Manning is a coach just like his dad. Believe me he knows the whole game.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

ZIG .. you didn't know that? Where have you been? Collins, Brady, Tyrel, EJ .. all Manning projects.

Aldrich, Morrises, Withey, TRob .. all Self.

PhearThePhog 8 years, 1 month ago

Didn't hear that ... but don't buy it. When you have a Danny Manning on staff HCBS wouldn't be the primary teacher to develop the bigs footwork & in the paint moves. I think he could have been saying that to deflect the 'whoa is us crowd' in the wake of Manning's exit announcement.

Woody Cragg 8 years, 1 month ago

Bring the "A" defensive game today. These guys are scoring a ton of points fom their guards. Counting today only 6 more times to come crashing out of the tunnel at AFH, so exhibit the urgency to bring home not one, but TWO more championships. The matchups today will be interesting to see how we measure up with that 4 guard lineup. Traylor, Ellis, & Tharpe need to be ready to give some blow time to the starters.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 1 month ago

4 more championships

Big12 Reg Big12 Tourny Regional National

KansasComet 8 years, 1 month ago

Keeping Jeff out of foul trouble will be crucial come tournament time. There always seems to be a game when a key player gets the quick whistle and has two fouls before the game has really started. I fear that with Jeff, Ben, Travis and EJ. I think this team has the ability to make a deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, if Indiana beats Michigan tonight, they may leap frog us in the AP Poll. It has been a great season. It is a great time in KU Basketball history. A time where we never seem to rebuild, but we always are able to reload. Enjoy the ride. We may not win the Championship, but for nearly 30 years, we have always been in the conversation. I realize a lot posters are too young to remember when this program struggled. It was not a fun time to know that we were just not good enough. Changes had to be made, and they were made. We did not have the Internet back in the 1982-1983 season when we went something like 13-16, and were swept by Missouri, and K-State. Got blown out by UK and lost to Ohio State. I could only imagine what the Internet postings would have been like back then? I appreciate every game we play now, and I always remember how sick to my stomach I felt back then. These are the good ole days...enjoy! I am not saying don't be critical. I love the back and forth, and everyone has the right to their opinion. I am saying enjoy the moment.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

KansasComet: I am a devout anti-enjoy the ride guy. Just being up front here. Had this debate with a few folks a couple of seasons ago after the UNI loss, I think. It was a solid topic for quite a while.

Yes, you can enjoy the KU basketball experience. I enjoy each game. But as a KU fan .. a humble, thankful, and arrogant KU basketball fan all in one .. I expect the ultimate success. I accept nothing less for my enjoyment purposes. The season is about the title pursuit. Expectations set that ultimate goal. Very rarely do we not have a team that is in that discussion, as you pointed out.

I can't enjoy losing to VCU. I do not look back on that season, nor the ride itself, fondly. At all. It is agony. Pain. It is a title given away. Much like 1997. Pretty much like to UNI, but worse. While we all know national titles can't be expected, and it's very hard to win a national title, that is the goal at Kansas.

Respectfully, "enjoy the ride" sounds like something I heard from an MU fan last season. And he meant it. And he should have meant it. I don't think we should simply "enjoy the ride." But I get your point -- basically, don't complain too much. The pursuit is fun. And it is.

But KU basketball is more agony in its conclusion, than enjoyment. And it's that way for every elite program because you lose your last game many times more than you win it. Is that sad? I don't know.

All I know is that our history have been viewed much differently, and Roy's, if we find a way past Duke in 1992, sneak past Maryland and then thump Indiana in '02, make a few free throws vs. Syracuse, and/or if Jacque Vaughn took the shot in the last 10 seconds vs. Arizona (and I'm assuming he makes it and we stroll to the national title).

For KU .. for elite programs .. and there are only a few .. the national title is the only real satisfaction. Right?

Alex Peekeaton 8 years, 1 month ago

"the national title is the only real satisfaction. Right?" - HEM, you are 100% correct. Winning the conference title and/or the conference tournament is good for a day or so, winning the National Championship lasts a lifetime.

dylans 8 years, 1 month ago

I get real satisfaction watching these young men grow up and get degrees also.

KansasComet 8 years, 1 month ago

HighEliteMajor,

Every season that you mentioned hurt when we lost. My three most painful losses were the 1986 Final Four loss to Duke. I maintain we were the better team, the 1997 loss to Arizona, and the 1998 loss to Rhode Island. The UNI, and VCU losses hurt too, they all do! I have the same expectation about this program year in and year out, and that is to win it all. The year, in the preseason, I said we were a top 5 team, and most of the responses I got said our ranking of 7 was about right. I expect to win every single game, or at least I hope we do.

When I say enjoy the ride, I mean appreciate all that we have. Please don't ever confuse anything I say to the opinion of a Missouri Fan ever again!!! That's not cool. My main point is that for nearly 30 years we have been in the conversation. No other basketball program can say that. I said the lean years sucked, because they did. I still remember the 1978 UCLA game as vividly as you remember the VCU game. What sucked was we did not even belong on the court with them. I never want to experience that feeling again. Winning it all is about talent, match ups, and luck once the tourney starts. We have experienced it both ways in Kansas. The 1988 team was not the most talented, but they went on a nice run all the way to the Championship. The 1991 team that you mentioned, beat an 33-3 Arkansas team on the way to the Championship game, that was clearly more talented than we were. The 2008 team was considered the last of the Number 1 seeds, but Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers played some of the best basketball, being down by nine to Memphis in the final 2:08 of regulation in Kansas History, and got us a Championship. To answer your question, the national title is the only real satisfaction? For me no. It is the icing on the cake. I get satisfaction, watching Jeff Withey develop into the player that he is today, while remembering when he was too skinny to get on the court or earn much playing time. My satisfaction comes from watching Thomas Robinson go from a fouling machine to a player of the year candidate. My satisfaction comes from watching these player eyes well with emotion as they give their Senior Night Speeches. A six game run to win the championship is just like the lottery, you can't win unless you have a ticket. I am glad that KU has the longest streak of punching their ticket. Finally, I think we both want the same thing, which is a National Championship every single year, we just have different views about how it feels getting there. Deep down inside, I probably feel much like you do, but that would drive me crazy!

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Comet -- I respect your viewpoint -- appreciation. Makes sense. I guess my perspective was more how it feels in retrospect. I do "enjoy the ride" to an extent, but still with this unfortunate concern for the potential horror of being knocked out by another UNI or VCU. Once it happens, it's hard for me to look too fondly back on "the ride."

I think we've just isolated why you will live longer than I will. A better perspective on life. I'm working on it.

An no, no .. not confusing you with anything MU. Just making a cautionary statement there.

KansasComet 8 years, 1 month ago

HEM, We're good to go on the MU. Believe me, I understand how you feel about UNI and VCU. I could debate about how we loss those two particular games all day.

planojayhawk 8 years, 1 month ago

KansasComet, Eloquently stated! Agree 100%.

The tournament format is intentionally using a format to create upsets, to create Cinderella stories, to give the "non-elite major" teams a chance, to create crazy surprises, to create fears of being upset in fans of "elite major" programs, to create ... we can go on and on and on... Add all these up, and we basketball fans, no matter which team (elite major or not), you are cheering for, are giving such a captivating experience in watching the March Madness every year. But then, those small minded fans who only care about National Titles would never understand this, and it really is pointless to argue with them.

planojayhawk 8 years, 1 month ago

My friend, lighten up! Otherwise, you will continue leave a very unhappy life.

Maybe time for some anti-depression med?

planojayhawk 8 years, 1 month ago

HighEliteMajor (how arrogant in use such name), It should such a sad life, and how small a person's view in life, if the only thing matter is the National Title.

hotrodm 8 years, 1 month ago

Ted Owens was ok, Larry was good, Roy was very good, Bill Self is the greatest. Keep Allen the loudest and proudest home court in America. Enjoy the moment KU fans.

VaJay 8 years, 1 month ago

I think I'd upgrade the "good" for Coach Brown. Just because you want your sentence to flow properly doesn't make it right...

Andy Godwin 8 years, 1 month ago

"...Withey, who has put on 20 pounds since arriving as a 215-pounder." I have put on 20 lbs since Thanksgiving. Nice to be young with an active metabolism. The concerning thing about Self's record, although 16-6 is good, his teams have struggled at times against OSU, especially on the road. OSU was pick preseason second in the league because they have talent, first round NBA talent. Hopefully KU's experience will prevail and their offense can run more efficiently and they can score in the 70's. Can't afford to keep OSU close because they can score from outside.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Withey is gone next season. Assume we don't land Randle. Watch Michigan today. What does that have to do with anything? That could be the 2013-14 Jayhawks.

Michigan's starting lineup goes 6'0" (Burke - So.), 6'5" (Hardaway - Jr. ), 6"6" (Robinson - Fr.), 6'6" (Stauskas - Fr,), 6'8" (Morgan - Jr.).

KU in 2013 -- Tharpe 5'11" Jr., Selden 6'5" Fr., Geene 6'6" Fr., White 6'6" So., and Ellis 6'8" So.

Michigan brings in usually a 6'10 off the bench, and a 6'5" guard. They have a back up point, and another big. They play a very tight rotation.

We would have Adams and/or Frankamp, plus Embiid, Lucas, and/or Traylor, off the bench.

Michigan's Morgan is bigger guy than Ellis, but he actually looks shorter than 6'8".

There is no reason why our top freshmen next season .. Selden and Greene .. can't be as good as Stauskas and Robinson of Michigan.

I'm not suggesting we'll be as good as Michigan is this season at all. Not saying that. But from a composition standpoint, we could be similar. We'll be really, really young .. younger than Michigan.

I wonder if Self will actually consider going with a smaller lineup, if it means playing his best players? We really don't know who the best players will be, of course. But I'm willing to bet that both Selden and Greene will be "better" than Traylor. And more ready than Embiid.

Missouri was even smaller in 2011-12 -- Pressey 5'11", Dixon 6'1", Denmon 6'3", English 6'6", Ratliffe 6'8". That team had 3 seniors.

I mention Missouri because they were really small (I've mentioned MU's approach more than a few time in posts). Insert Adams for Selden or Greene, and we are much smaller.

The flaw here may be that Ellis is not a bigger body. He's not small, but he's not bulky. Ratliffe and Morgan were/are bulky. But Morgan seems more shorter.

Losing a Withey like presence, and having that type of presence (Embiid) be likely a year away from starting, may create a different look for the 2013-14 Jayhawks, even if we sign Randle. In that case, we'd likely start two 4s .. Ellis and Randle. Regardless, unless Embiid shocks the world and earn a starting spot, the 2013-14 Hawks won't have a starting center.

And that's no big deal. Basketball can be played, and won, a lot of ways. I'm hopeful that Self's mind is open to the possibility of playing small next season.

Boouk 8 years, 1 month ago

If we don't get Randle or Wiggins, I think next year we could be in for a drop off in the W-L column almost as big as UKs is this season.

Robert Brock 8 years, 1 month ago

Lucas ain't redshirting for nothing. He will start.

Robert Brock 8 years, 1 month ago

Lucas will start next year at the 5 spot.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Brock: I would suggest that Lucas is redshirting because heading into this season, he was not as good as Traylor. Rule #1 .. you don't redshirt a player that can help now. If Self would have felt Lucas was better now, he certainly would have not done the redshirt deal. You don't just redshirt based on where a kid may be in four more seasons if he can help now. That's too speculative. Further, in Europe and in the preseason, Lucas did not get really any significant accolades. Nothing more than Traylor. Plus, he was not a top 100 player.

So there is the objective.

Tell us why he will start.

dylans 8 years, 1 month ago

Supposed raw talent, which is really all we, the fans, can conjecture upon. I've not been to practice and you have to take all that Bill says with a grain of salt. The post is an area of weakness this season. (Withey is great, but the rest are role players - I still love 'em though) So why isn't Lucas playing?

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Proof is in the pudding .. he's not good enough this season, that is if you trust coach Self's judgment on talent.

dylans 8 years, 1 month ago

I absolutely trust Bill's eye for talent just not what he tells the media about said talent.

dylans 8 years, 1 month ago

Not very likely, but it will be his third year in the system.

dylans 8 years, 1 month ago

Top 2 talents don't sit on the bench. Here's hoping there is no stupid hat ceremony.

JHawk74 8 years, 1 month ago

White will not start at the 4 position next year. He may start at the 3 position. I could see the starting line up as Tharpe, Selden, White, Ellis and Traylor. Adams will likely be the back up Point Guard, Frankamp & Greene will be in the mix also. We will have more depth in the guards position next year than we do this year. If we would get Randle I could see him starting beside Ellis or being the first person off the bench for the bigs.

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Traylor a starter? Really? Ugh.

Randle the first off the bench as even a possibility? I sense some hallucinogenics there.

I'm not saying you're wrong about White. Self will probably stay conventional. But would you rather have White on the floor, or Traylor? Self played Little at the 4 quite a bit. Same size guys. Other teams have won with it. See Michigan right now. You can cover an undersized 4 easily with trapping, zone here and there, pace of the game, etc. No doubt you have a weakness. My only concern would be that we don't have a bigger post player to go with it (Ellis).

Michael Bennett 8 years, 1 month ago

I agree with JHawk's lineup. Traylor started one game this year, and he's probably best post option next year after Ellis (assuming they didn't land Randle)

Jack Wilson 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes, he has .. Little played the 4 at 6'6". Perhaps don't think four guard, look at size. If you watch White, he's not a guard. He is a classic small forward. Self runs a 3 guard system, but true small forwards have played in it like Rush. Little was a small forward.

You are exactly right on the D .. and on the partial solution. Tempo, pace, as well as trapping can provide cover.

I tend to think, really, that the big team would have to adjust. I've posted this before, but who had to adjust last season, us, or MU?

FearlessJayhawk 8 years, 1 month ago

In this day and age of huge, bulky beasts playing in the post, Jeff is a throw back to the age of playing with finesse. It's probably because of his volleyball experience. He is living proof you don't have to be a beast and still be effective.

Michael Bennett 8 years, 1 month ago

yeah and it's been theorized that it helped him blocked shots

PSM 8 years, 1 month ago

I see GB was feeling the alliteration when writing the headline.

flyingfinn 8 years, 1 month ago

KUDOS to Norm Roberts. I was worried that the play of our big men would suffer when Danny Manning left, but the beat goes on

ProveMeWrong 8 years, 1 month ago

Man I don't know what KU basketball has come to. This dude is not good, and for what ever reason "WE" KU fans keep hypin this dude. He blocks, wow, but he doesn't play up to his size at all. He will go to the NBA BUT ONLY because he's 7'0

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