More than ever, Jeff Withey stood out in a crowd of Kansas University basketball players at last week’s Media Day in Allen Fieldhouse.
The tallest Jayhawk of all was spotted ...
• navigating through the northwest tunnel onto the court with a bulky cast on his right foot and one of the largest sets of crutches in the history of modern medicine under his arms.
• sporting a funky new hairdo, quite different from the crew cut he favored much of last season.
Where did KU get the massive crutches?
“I have no idea,” 7-foot, 235-pound sophomore center Withey said. “Bill Cowgill (KU trainer) walked in and handed me these big ol’ things.”
Of his somewhat spiked, gelled locks, he grinned and said, “This thing? I don’t know (what to call it). It’s a little ‘fauxhawk.’
“I’m trying to be original, I guess.”
The easy-going Californian — who became eligible last Dec. 19 after sitting out two semesters upon transferring from the University of Arizona — has kept his sense of humor despite suffering a physical setback for the second straight preseason.
Withey — he broke a bone in his foot on Sept. 21 and had a screw inserted to help support healing of his fifth metatarsal — missed six weeks last October/November because of a stress fracture in his right knee.
He was also rendered inactive three weeks during the summer of 2009 because of a severely sprained right thumb.
“It’s definitely frustrating. It seems like one thing after another,” said Withey, who last Friday had his cast removed in favor of a walking boot.
“You have to be optimistic about it. You can’t do anything about it. I try not to worry about it too much. Hopefully this is the last injury as a Jayhawk or even in my basketball career. It’s how I have to look at it, keep playing hard when I get out there.”
This latest injury came in individual workouts.
“It’s a weird accident. I came down on somebody’s foot (grabbing a rebound). I knew it was broken right away. It was frustrating because (while wearing hard cast), I couldn’t lift or anything because it could get infected.”
He has been able to return to lifting the past few days and has been working out in the pool.
“The next step is looking forward to being able to work out (run) again. It’s depressing to not be able to work out when you are used to it all the time,” Withey said. “They said I won’t miss any games. That’s the plan. I’m sticking by that,” added Withey, who doesn’t figure to be ready for the Nov. 2 exhibition versus Washburn. The second exhibition is Nov. 9 against Emporia State.
The former Horizon San Diego High standout appeared in 15 games his red-shirt freshman season, averaging 3.0 minutes, 1.3 points and 1.4 rebounds. He grabbed a career-high six rebounds and scored four points against Nebraska on Feb. 6. His best game of 2009-10 came Jan. 23 at Iowa State, where he set career highs in minutes (12) and points (eight off 4-of-6 shooting). He also had five boards.
He hopes to be able to provide some of the same presence Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Cole Aldrich brought to the Jayhawks.
“That’s the plan,” Withey said.
“Play great defense, block a lot of shots, make open shots, do what I can to help my team win. I want to contribute to the team. I don’t know what my position is yet. I think that’s what the exhibition games bring out. Hopefully I can come out and do what I do best, play as hard as I can and block a lot of shots.”
Withey — he has gained 30 pounds since first setting foot on KU’s campus — put up big numbers as a prep, averaging 20.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 7.3 blocks and 4.1 assists a game as a senior at San Diego’s Horizon High while shooting 69 percent. He averaged 14.8 ppg and 13.0 rpg as a junior.
He’s just one of four Jayhawks 6-9 or taller, the only one resembling Aldrich, who made life miserable on opposing players by clogging the middle.
“Cole was awesome,” KU coach Bill Self said. “What made him awesome, if you screw up defensively, he can make up for your mistakes. When guys gamble and miss, he’ll come over and help block or alter a shot. He was a great defensive rebounder in his area.
“You don’t replace a guy that can block and alter shots like that, but hopefully Jeff Withey can get healthy and be a guy we can put in there and have that impact whenever he’s in the game. But Cole is one of the best shot blockers and defensive rebounders in the country. We are going to miss that, but can also do some things differently that can make us good defensively over time.”
“We can guard ball screens differently. We can full-court-pressure more. I think we can do some things that maybe we couldn’t do with Cole in the game that would make us different, not necessarily better, but just different,” Self said. “If we’re able to do those things well then maybe some of those things Cole covered up won’t be quite as important as what they were last year.”
Self likes to use a lot of big men, so in theory there’s time to be had by Withey and Thomas Robinson (6-9) as well as 6-10 Markieff and 6-9 Marcus Morris. Mario Little at 6-6 also can play power forward.
“I think all the big men will contribute a lot this year,” Withey said. “We are all different in the way we play. Together we will make some noise and do some real damage. I’m pretty sure this year will be a great one. I look forward to it and can’t wait (to get on court).”
Clinic this weekend: Self’s eighth-annual coaches clinic will be held Friday and Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. Those attending the clinic — open to all coaches at all levels — will be able to watch the Jayhawks practice Friday and Saturday. Coaches who wish to attend can receive information at kuathletics.com.
Praise for Marcus: Self continues to rave about junior Marcus Morris. He had this to say to Foxsports.com’s Jeff Goodman, who is on a preseason tour of several college campuses including KU, K-State and Missouri. “He may be the most versatile player in the country,” Self said. “He’s the best all-around player I’ve coached since I’ve been here.”
KU’s graduation rate tops in school history: Kansas University’s athletic teams compiled the best graduation-success-rate number in school history, according to figures released by the school Monday morning. KU’s graduation-success rate of 77 percent (taking into account freshman classes of 2003, ’02, ’01, ’00) topped last year’s mark of 74 percent. The NCAA will soon release all schools’ figures.