Laid back senior leads by example
By Andrew Curtis
Kansas has long been considered ‘Big Man U’. Even with the recent departure of Danny Manning, the man that received most of the credit for the nickname, the position remains extremely well-coached. The player who is seeing the most benefits from this is senior 7-footer Jeff Withey.
Withey has improved as much in a 4-year span as any player I have ever seen. He was so awkwardly tentative and fragile as a freshman that it was hard to see him ever having an impact on the court for the Jayhawks.
Thanks to a couple years of grueling praticices with fellow post players and current members of the NBA such as the Morris twins, Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson, Withey has transformed into the most dominant force in college basketball.
We saw glimpses of it last season. Withey showed he could be a factor offensively by finding a way to get open and score when Thomas Robinson got double-teamed. Withey no longer was afraid of contact. He finally used his lanky frame to go right at smaller defenders to attack the basket and shoot the ball over them.
He also developed a sweet stroke at the free throw line and became KU’s most reliable foul shooter. He is easily one of the best free throw shooters I’ve seen at this size and position.
Defensively, we all know the story. Withey covers up glaring mistakes by the Kansas defense by sticking those long arms in the air and towering over the guy with the ball and making his life miserable for a split-second, generally swatting the ball right back in the other guy’s face.
We all know it’s tough to rebound against a 7-footer, and the blocked shot has become a staple of Withey’s game and is what defines him. The man is AVERAGING six rebounds per game. That is unheard of in today’s day and age. If he continues this and keeps up his defensive prowess, watch out come March.
In the past three games games, Withey has put up 25 points against Saint Louis and earned Big 12 player of the week honors by putting up a triple-double against San Jose State, just the 2nd in school history, as well as scoring 17 points in Friday’s game against feisty Oregon State.
The statistical improvement from year two to year three and year three to year four has been astronomical for Jeff. In his sophomore year, he played sparingly and averaged 2 points, 2 rebounds and 1 block per game.
Withey then saw his minutes quadruple in his junior year, and his production showed why he deserved the increase in playing time. ¬¬He averaged 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks a game while rarely fouling out. He was the perfect low-post counterpart to All-American and National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson.
This season, Withey has established himself as the early frontrunner for Big 12 Player of the Year, along with his teammate, Ben McLemore, who leads the Jayhawks in scoring. Withey is putting up 15 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks per game.
He presents a matchup nightmare for other teams because 7-footers are a rare breed in college basketball these days. If Kansas is going to make a postseason run to the Final Four in Atlanta, Withey will be a major reason why. I’ll be the one who said ‘I told you so’.
Withey’s draft position is getting better with every game, and he will most likely be selected in the top half of the first round of this June’s NBA Draft. With his rate of development, don’t be shocked when it happens.