Archive for Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kansas-bound: With help from mom, Josh Selby makes it to KU

Josh Selby, right, gives his mother, Maeshon Witherspoon, a hug on the court following the Jordan Brand Classic. Selby announced that he would play basketball at Kansas University on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Josh Selby, right, gives his mother, Maeshon Witherspoon, a hug on the court following the Jordan Brand Classic. Selby announced that he would play basketball at Kansas University on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

April 18, 2010


— Josh Selby committed to Kansas University on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in front of hundreds of thousands of fans on ESPN2. He’s the country’s fourth-ranked player according to, and that ranking might move up. Most fans know him as the 6-foot-3 guard with mad hops and nearly unlimited shooting range.

His mother, Maeshon Witherspoon, says there’s something much more impressive about Selby than his basketball skills, though.

To make it to this point — in a single-parent household and through a tough Baltimore neighborhood — he never let himself get lost along the way.

“He’s never given up,” Witherspoon said. “I would say that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”

‘Rough times’

Selby doesn’t talk much about his childhood, simply labeling it as “rough times.”

Witherspoon, meanwhile, admitted her son has seen more bad things in west Baltimore than even she has.

When Selby was 5, for instance, Witherspoon took him to his grandmother’s house on New Year’s Eve so that she could go to her job at McDonald’s.

The neighborhood that night was filled with gunfire, as people randomly shot off bullets in the street to celebrate the holiday. Witherspoon received a call from her son. He was frightened, talking about the sounds he had heard outside the windows.

Witherspoon didn’t hesitate.

“I’m on my way,” she told him.

Though she had additional cleaning work still to do, she left her workplace to pick up Selby.

Witherspoon and Selby had an even tougher experience when Selby was in middle school.

Witherspoon, who was working on buying a house, quit her job as an assistant manager at Boston Market to take another position.

When that job fell through, Witherspoon and a roommate fell behind on rent. They received an eviction notice shortly after.

Selby and Witherspoon were homeless.

The two moved in with some of Witherspoon’s friends. Selby slept in the same bed as two boys, while Witherspoon shared a bed with two other people in the living room.

Selby on Selby

Baltimore, Md., guard Josh Selby talks about himself and getting to where he is. Enlarge video

“You feel like a failure as a parent,” Witherspoon said. “As a parent, you look around, watching your kid in bed with two other kids. To me, that wasn’t acceptable. Not as a parent.”

Worse for Witherspoon was that she was seeing a difference in Josh’s attitude. She started to see the signs of him becoming what she calls a “street kid.”

“He wanted to be bad,” Witherspoon said. “He was thinking about ditching school and talking back and skipping curfew, because that’s a product of where we were living at.”

Witherspoon knew, at about that age, many kids started to sell drugs. It was only natural for middle-school boys to want the clothes and new shoes that their friends had.

Though Selby had shelter, food and clothing, he didn’t have those luxury items.

“I was worried,” Witherspoon said, “that I was going to lose my son.”

Still, Selby never gave into the pressures. And after two weeks, Witherspoon said she made one of the best decisions of her life.

Before, Witherspoon had been too embarrassed to go home to her mother. Witherspoon had pride, and she didn’t want to be labeled as the kind of person who moved back in to her old home.

“It wasn’t about me anymore,” Witherspoon said. “And that’s what I had to do. I had to take me out of the equation and make it about my son.”

Witherspoon’s mother, Pat, gladly opened her home to Josh and his mother.

Witherspoon sensed a positive change in Selby.

Selby switched middle schools, transferring away from a rough neighborhood to a school with the positive influence of his cousins, Will and Antonio Barton. Suddenly, he wasn’t as alone. He also was having more fun.

Selby still had to push on when other events brought him down.

He was present when one of his friends was pistol whipped, breaking the friend’s jaw to the point where he had to have his mouth wired shut.

Also, when Selby was 15, his cousin, Shelton Turner, was shot while sitting in his car.

Selby made it to the hospital in time to see Turner, who was in poor condition with brain swelling.

On April 8, 2006, Turner died. It was one of a string of difficult family deaths, which included Selby’s grandmother, great grandmother, grandfather and uncle.

Mother knows best

So who was it that helped Selby to keep going?

First and foremost, it was Witherspoon.

“Everything I know about the game, she taught me,” Selby said. “She was probably better than me. I was athletic. That was the only difference.”

Witherspoon was a good basketball player in her own right, becoming the first freshman to start on varsity at Overlea High School in Baltimore. She later received a basketball scholarship offer at Coppin State.

When Selby was in seventh grade, Witherspoon recognized that her son’s left hand was weak on the basketball court. So she took him to the gym, made him put his right hand in the back of his shorts, then watched as he bounced the basketball against the wall with his left hand.

Selby would start to whine to his mom when his arm started to get tired.

“I don’t care,” Witherspoon would say. “You need to use the left hand.”

Selby also has a close bond with his uncle Mike Witherspoon, who has Down syndrome. Already, Mike has had two open-heart surgeries.

Selby treats Mike like his own brother, oftentimes playfully arguing with him about television or video games.

When talking about Mike, Selby calls him “mentally challenged.” Those words sound better than others he’s heard.

Selby even has Mike’s initials, “M.W.” tattooed on his calf.

“Having him around me, that just motivates me more because that could have been any one of us,” Selby said. “We could have been like that. He could have had our talents. So I am just feeling blessed.”

The next step

Perhaps the signs were there for Witherspoon.

Selby did score 64 points during a game as a 10-year-old. That included 48 points in the first half.

Still, Witherspoon believes everything that has happened in the last year or so is still a bit surreal.

She is taken back when she sees Facebook groups that begged her son, a Lake Clifton High School phenom, to choose a certain school. Or when she sees her son signing autographs for fans.

“I’m in awe, because it’s my son,” Witherspoon said. “The thing they really don’t see is how hard he works.”

She still wants to see how he competes at the next level. She believes the true skills of a player show up when they play bigger and stronger players at the collegiate level.

“That’s why I don’t believe in the one-and-done rule,” Witherspoon said, “because it’s so hard to judge that type of talent when you’re playing against high school kids.”

With his announcement Saturday, Selby will test his skills against college basketball’s best with the Jayhawks next season.

Witherspoon said she watched KU coach Bill Self closely while on her visit. Sitting behind the bench, she liked the way the coach disciplined his players, oftentimes covering his mouth to hide his words from public view.

Still, she saw a coach pushing his players. She believes her son needs that.

“When you throw a challenge at him,” Witherspoon said, snapping her fingers, “he turns it on. I want him to be challenged.”

She also wants him to not feel any more pressure than he has to.

Selby has already joked with others, saying if he signs a pro contract, he’s going to buy his mom a pink Mini Cooper and an apartment.

Witherspoon has told her son that he doesn’t have to do that.

“Josh has already given me any and everything I could ever ask for with him getting a college scholarship,” Witherspoon said. “I’m good. He has the college offers. Now, I need a diploma.

“He’s done half of what I’ve asked him to do.”


texburgh 8 years ago

Gee. Ku gets another basketball player so we need to give umpteen column inches to the event. Just like the LJW does every time another high school athlete says he wants to come here to run with a ball. And get a big scholarship to do it.

And how many column inches are devoted annually to outstanding high school scholars who commit to KU instead of Princeton or Stanford?

This is a great opportunity for this kid and we should all be happy for him and what this does for him as well as for the KU basketball program. But it sure seems that for the LJW, KU is an athletic school, not an academic school.

John Kyle 8 years ago

How dare they put sports news in the sports section!

sourpuss 8 years ago

Josh Selby sounds like a disciplined, hard-working young man and he will be an asset to the university, not just on the basketball court. Yes, KU is an academic school and the LJW does report on academic success, but the university administration does not seem to prioritize academic success, so what is there to report on? But to be fair, I don't think the LJW readership cares that some National Merit Scholar from Liberal, Kansas decided to choose KU to study organic chemistry, right? Fair or not, the sports teams get a lot of national exposure and academics, in general, don't, especially not at the undergrad level. Occasionally the research of a grad student or professor makes the news.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years ago

"But it sure seems that for the LJW, KU is an athletic school, not an academic school."

Don't worry, Dolph will make the same complaint (again) in some poorly written, verbose Saturday Column-- but there will be no change in JW coverage, because sports, especially basketball, is what sells ads.

geekin_topekan 8 years ago

I wonder where he'd be today if his community had told him that he and his mother were going to be "bussed off", or "rounded up and handed a one-way ticket"?

Don Whiteley 8 years ago

Congratulations! So will he be like Collins and shoot 20% in the clutch, or will he simply help KU lose to Hutchinson Jr. College because he doesn't feel he has to give 100% every game?

esteshawk 8 years ago

Gee, maybe the reason the LJW doesn't print stories on kids that go to Stanford or Princeton is because Lawrence is home to KU, and not those schools. Also, Ivy schools don't grant athletic scholorships. Now if a Lawrence kid goes to play at one of those schools, maybe it would make the local paper.

texburgh 8 years ago

A closer read of my posting suggests they should occasionally feature brilliant minds that could go to Princeton or Stanford but choose to come to KU. They don't because they are only interested in the sports program at the LJW - for many reasons that others have already stated here.

jaywalker 8 years ago

"And how many column inches are devoted annually to outstanding high school scholars who commit to KU instead of Princeton or Stanford?"

Yeah, that's what moves the dial. Everyone how incredibly popular HIgh-Q is, and people would much rather learn about the next Bill Gates rather than what a train wreck Lindsey Lohan is.

Why are people so foolish when it comes to athletics?

kjb311 8 years ago

Please stop posting comments complaining about sports articles vs academics articles. There are plenty of none sports articles on the LJ World. In case you have not noticed, sports are kind of a Big Deal in our society. There are not a lot of newspapers out there without sports sections. If you want more academics articles then write one and submit it to the editor. Sports/Spectacle have been a foundation of the human experience for thousands of years and complaining about there presence on a post written to celebrate a young mans next step in life is shameful. Grow up, or at least educate yourself. Go Selby, Rock Chalk!

DB Ashton 8 years ago

Like it or not (I don’t but, hypocritically, I do watch and enjoy the games), basketball stirs the drink at Kansas. Somewhere along the line, the university community-at-large decided to invest vast resources in continuing the tradition of basketball excellence here. It’s the Kansas brand. Josh Selby is a valuable return on that investment. He’s not just some dribbling jumping jack; he’s the new vice president of the marketing department. His acquisition is a huge story. The program would, and should have been criticised had he not elected to enrol here. The notion that this story doesn’t deserve a bucket of ink is ridiculous.

colreader 8 years ago

In case you missed the game or want to see it again, the Jordan Brand Classic is on tonight (Sunday) at 7 PM on ESPNU and tomorrow at 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM (CST).

Jean1183 8 years ago

He sounds like a great kid. Accolades to MOM!

Russell Fryberger 8 years ago

Lets see how fast he "goes pro". Give it 2 years and then we'll see how commited he is. 2 and gone?

chzypoof1 8 years ago

Josh Selby, if you are reading this, the VERY small portion of people writing these negative comments just can't handle the way things are. The true fans are here to back you up, no matter what.

And to all of you....quit. This is an article celebrating a kid's tough childhood, and the strides he made to get there. Don't knock him down because you are too insecure in your own lives. Sports sells. The end....


Maddy Griffin 8 years ago

Well said chzypoof1. Welcome to KU Mr. Selby! ROCK CHALK!!

Uhjh 8 years ago

Josh thanks for choosing KU! Ignore the negative remarks these are usually by disgruntled people who live in la la land anyway. Saw you on TV and am really excited to watch you in Allen Fieldhouse. Welcome to KU.

mom_of_three 8 years ago

I enjoyed the article. His mom sounds like a heck of a person. And he sounds like a good kid, who has been taught to make good choices. She wants a college diploma, and I hope she gets it.

puddleglum 8 years ago

way to go, Josh. enjoy your time here at KU. We look forward to seeing you play!

Russell Fryberger 8 years ago

Welcome Josh, kudos to mom. Just don't jump ship after 1 or 2 years.

DRsmith 8 years ago

LOL...Wonder if KU will ever get tired of getting UK left overs. First X. Henry and now Selby. At least he is a good player though.

lionhawk13 8 years ago

DRsmith........are you for real ? DR of Dumbsh_ts If you Kentucky mildcats get tired of our left overs........ Then you might want to rename your arena "Rupp" ...after all he is a JAYHAWK who is from Halstead KANSAS!! His family made it HOME to Allen fieldhouse this year for the game on Thanksgiving weekend, how many times did they make it to Rupp? Dont forget where you come, from just like carolina ....All basketball roads come through my hometown !!! RCJH so beat it .........

Commenting has been disabled for this item.