Schuster: Withey fulfills his promise
- Mar. 25, 2013
- 1 Comment
There’s something that felt strangely right about Jeff Withey’s performance against North Carolina.
This is the Withey that promised Kansas coach Bill Self that he wouldn’t be a failure upon arriving in Lawrence.
This is the comfortable Withey, the natural-looking Withey, and perhaps the easiest to spot, the hungry Withey.
This Withey is an offensive monster that’s every bit as graceful as his defensive side.
And the Tar Heels were just the latest to discover him as that monster produced 16 points with an equal amount of rebounds to go with six blocks, while UNC hit just 22 of its 73 shots (30.1 percent).
But don’t be mistaken; this is not merely a phenomenal performance from Withey. This is the new normal.
“Withey does a great job protecting the rim, “North Carolina’s Marcus Paige said. “Our shooters never had a chance to get into rhythm.”
Maybe it is the hunger. That pain to achieve what the Jayhawks missed out on a year ago, but when Withey puts everything together this Kansas team clicks —it just took him a while to work up an appetite for ram.
“The first half we made some bonehead plays,” Withey said. “Especially me. I had six turnovers myself.”
Fortunately, Withey’s play thereafter would make up for it.
When Kansas was just starting to mount its comeback from a 10-point deficit, it was Withey’s four defensive rebounds that saved possessions for the Jayhawks. And when Kansas took its first lead midway through the first, it was Withey scoring the layup.
“We kind of got a better feel for them,” Withey said. “We knew they were trying to gamble and trying to steal the ball every time. So we just played to that.”
That feeling was different for Jayhawks fans. Once Withey had the ball, there was more of a sense of safety.
In Kansas’ five games since the start of the Big 12 tournament Withey is scoring 14.6 points per game — shooting 66 percent — while maintaining his season average of 8.3 rebounds. Not to mention his 17 blocks over that span.
Sometimes that makes it hard to remember that Withey was once a seven-foot scrub that couldn’t find playing time. That Withey was a gawky freshman who was afraid of the ball, the kid who was repeatedly questioned about how much he actually liked playing this sport.
You didn’t think Withey could be described as a safety net then, or even two years ago.
Which goes back to that feeling. The one that felt strangely right when the Withey and the Jayhawks started playing at their best. When Withey attacked the rim with as much ferocity as when he defends it.
It feels like a promise fulfilled.
Blake is a senior from Chicago, Ill., studying journalism on the news and information track. Read more from Blake Schuster.