On 'stressful' night, Jeff Withey relieved to be taken by Portland with 39th pick

Kansas center Jeff Withey pumps his fist as Ohio State players William Buford (44) and Deshaun Thomas (1) show their frustration during a Jayhawk run in the second half.

Kansas center Jeff Withey pumps his fist as Ohio State players William Buford (44) and Deshaun Thomas (1) show their frustration during a Jayhawk run in the second half.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Surrounded by family and friends in San Diego, Kansas University center Jeff Withey needed something to break the tension of a stressful draft night, finally deciding to play pool with some of his old high school coaches during the second round.

He was still at the table when the Portland Trail Blazers made him the 39th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday night.

“When it was finally called, it was just kind of a relief,” Withey said. “I felt very happy, being able to go to a cool place like Portland.”

Withey, who was projected by some analysts to be a first-rounder, ended up falling to the ninth pick of the second round.

“I know that Jeff is excited,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I know he’s more motivated now than ever.”

For the entire first round, Withey huddled with family and friends around the TV in anticipation of getting taken.

“Watching the draft is a very stressful thing on the TV, because it goes by so slow,” Withey said. “You’re watching it, and you see commercials and everything. My whole thought process was, ‘Maybe the next one. Maybe the next one.’”

Withey said he hadn’t worked out or even been contacted by the Trail Blazers before Thursday.

“The biggest thing is just he’s got to work,” Self said. “He’s got to do a good job in the summer league and probably get a little bit stronger and keep honing his skills.

“I heard he had some really good workouts with several teams. I don’t think he has to change anything. He just has to get a little bit better at everything he does.”

Withey — a San Diego native — searched for “Portland” on the Internet immediately after his selection to learn more about his new city.

“I’m really excited to be on the West Coast,” Withey said. “Obviously, I’ll be able to see a lot of my family throughout the season. Being on the West Coast, being by the ocean, the water, is something that I’ve missed.”

Withey goes to Portland after a strong defensive career at KU.

The 7-footer was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches co-defensive player of the year after setting a new KU single-season blocks record with 146 rejections in 2012-13. Withey earned Big 12 defensive player of the year honors the last two seasons and completed his career with a school-record 312 blocks.

Offensively last year, Withey averaged 13.7 points per game while making 58 percent of his twos and 71 percent of his free throws. He also led KU in rebounding — averaging 8.5 boards per game — and was a consensus second-team All-America selection.

Withey is the 74th player to be drafted in KU men’s basketball history. The Jayhawks, who also had Ben McLemore selected with the seventh pick to Sacramento, have had at least two players taken in the draft four straight years.

“It was a good night for Kansas,” Self said. “It probably wasn’t as good because Travis (Releford) didn’t get drafted, and those two maybe didn’t go quite as high as we hoped, but, still, it’s a pretty special night.”