All the talk centered on the second-tallest guy in the room. Monday was Cole Aldrich’s day, his chance to say goodbye and thanks and all the routine things a player leaving his school early for the NBA says.
Meanwhile, the tallest guy in the room sat in the front row of the section occupied by Aldrich’s former teammates. Jeff Withey, 7-footer, has Aldrich by an inch, but to hear Withey himself tell it, Aldrich has him by a mile as a basketball player.
“He just knows the game really well,” Withey said when asked where Aldrich has an advantage on him. “His jump-hook is really good. It’s really hard to block. He’s just real consistent. I have to work on that.”
The natural progression of things would seem to suggest Withey will get many of the minutes vacated by Aldrich, but nobody was prepared to say that Monday. Asked if the time had arrived for Withey to “step in and contribute big-time,” coach Bill Self sounded noncommittal.
“I think it’s too early (to say),” Self said. “Of course that’s what we want. But I think it’s too early to determine what we’re really looking for because we haven’t had a recruiting class this spring. We may sign one or two more guys. You never know. I’m really excited about next year’s team.”
This much is known: Self has to recruit a point guard to replace Sherron Collins. Josh Selby of Baltimore is at the top of the wish list there, and the playing time is available so that seems like a perfect match.
The way Self answered the Withey question made it seem as if the other scholarship — the one that opens when Xavier Henry declares his intention to make his name available for the NBA Draft — could go to a post player.
If Self recruits another big man, that doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t believe Withey is the answer. It could mean Self wants to move Marcus Morris to the perimeter to fill the spot vacated by Henry. Or it could mean Self wants to land a more physical post player to join the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson in the event Withey doesn’t make the strides during the offseason he sounds determined to make.
Withey played just 45 minutes during his first season at Kansas as a red-shirt freshman. He totaled 19 points, 21 rebounds, six blocked shots and seven personal fouls. Most of his minutes came during garbage time.
Withey once reached double figures in minutes, Jan. 23 at Iowa State, when he picked up eight points, five rebounds and a blocked shot without committing a foul in 12 minutes.
Practices are closed to the media, so it’s difficult to say how the considerable skills Withey showed against Iowa State, probably the least physical team in the Big 12, translated to daily practices against KU’s big men.
Asked if he would be disappointed if he does not get significant playing time next season, Withey showed a lot of maturity in his answer.
“Only this summer will tell,” Withey said. “I have a lot of work to do. I’m just going to focus on getting better right now and try not to look too far into the future. I would say working with (strength coach) Andrea (Hudy), gaining more confidence and working on my game with Danny (Manning) are the things I really have to focus on right now.”