Jeff Withey’s winding road to New Orleans
Is there a player in the Final Four whose career has begun more slowly than Jeff Withey?
The consensus top-40 recruit out of San Diego first committed to Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals. Then he changed his mind and enrolled at Arizona. Where, once again, he changed his mind. Only Arizona wouldn’t grant him a release to transfer. That is, until they changed their minds.
When he finally ended up at Kansas he spent his first semester on the bench due to transfer rules. Once he was able to play, he still spent most of his time on the bench. For two years he watched as Cole Aldrich and then the Morris twins got all of the minutes.
In those two years he played in 42 games and averaged less than five minutes per. He never once scored in double figures.
But with new seasons come new roles. This year he was inserted into the middle of the Kansas lineup. In the first seven games he averaged 21 minutes, and was recording 8 points and 2 blocks a night. Unremarkable numbers, but at least he was a starter, right?
And then came Kansas vs Long Beach State and his near triple-double. Withey scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and blocked 9 shots. People learned his name.
Four days later they played Ohio State. With Jared Sullinger in street clothes, it was a night for Thomas Robinson to do his thing. Withey only scored 2 points. In fact, over the next seven games it looked like Withey was fading away again. In that stretch he averaged just 6 points a game.
Then came 13 points, 11 boards and 7 blocks against Iowa State. And then another double-double in the following game against Baylor, including 9 offensive rebounds. Whatever needed to click, clicked. He reeled off six straight double-digit scoring games. He had 8 blocks against Texas A&M. He scored a career high 25 in the rematch with Baylor, and then just missed another triple-double when he had 9 blocks vs Kansas State.
Since his pedestrian start to the season he’s averaged 25 minutes a game. With Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor leading the way, Withey is rarely called upon to lead the offense. But he makes 54% of his 2s and he gets to the line at a higher rate than any Kansas player. Once there he makes 79%.
Oh, and he led the conference in blocked shots. How good a shot blocker is he? Consider this. Anthony Davis – who is considered one of the best shot blockers in recent memory – blocks 13.9% of the shots when he’s on the floor. Withey blocks 15.4%, which is the best in the nation.
His career didn’t begin as he would have scripted it. But now he’s a key starter on one of the four teams left standing.