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Jeff Withey-Elijah Johnson next 1-2 punch?

April 5, 2012

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Kansas center Jeff Withey gets on the floor for a loose ball with Kansas State forward Rodney McGruder during the second half on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is KU guard Elijah Johnson.

Kansas center Jeff Withey gets on the floor for a loose ball with Kansas State forward Rodney McGruder during the second half on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 at Bramlage Coliseum. At right is KU guard Elijah Johnson.

During this season’s run to the national championship game in New Orleans, Kansas University standouts Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson were KU’s top two scorers in 20 of the 39 games the Jayhawks played.

Remarkable? Ridiculous? Hard to fathom?

The better question might be, is it fair to expect two players to do such a thing again next year?

Fair or not, several Jayhawks said after KU’s loss to Kentucky on Monday night in the Superdome that returning seniors-to-be Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey could assume the roles left by Taylor, a senior, and Robinson, a junior who is expected to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft.

“I could see that,” junior Travis Releford said Monday. “I could see that happening because that’s how it’s been in the past. Guys leave, other guys step up. And it’s going to continue to be like that at a program like Kansas.”

Although not exactly the same as the 1-2 punch of Taylor and Robinson, physically or emotionally, Johnson and Withey bring similar skills from similar positions. Johnson, like Taylor, is a tall guard with great athleticism who is capable of driving to the rim and knocking down outside shots. The 7-foot Withey, though not nearly as chiseled as Robinson, has great size and an improving post game. He also grew to enjoy hurting the rim with highlight slam dunks.

“They’re definitely different players,” senior Conner Teahan said Monday. “But, at the same time, in terms of importance, I think that could happen. I think Elijah can lead a team from the point-guard position very easily, and I think that Jeff can be somebody that you can throw the ball into in the post. This year just gave him more and more experience.”

While Robinson (17.7 points per game) and Taylor (16.6) led the Jayhawks in scoring, Johnson (10.2) and Withey (9.0) were not far behind. Because of his performance in KU’s final eight games of the season, when he averaged 15.1 points, led the team in scoring twice and reached double figures in all eight of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 and NCAA Tournament games, Johnson’s season average does not seem to fit. Many of his current teammates believe that stretch will go down as the springboard to a big senior season.

“He blossomed in this tournament,” Teahan said of Johnson. “He understood what it meant to be aggressive. He was always aggressive in terms of taking shots but not always in terms of getting to the basket and wanting the ball in the last minutes when great players make the plays. But he was in the tournament, and hopefully he just keeps this momentum going into next year.”

In the locker room following the loss to Kentucky, both Johnson and Withey said they would be back at Kansas for their senior seasons. And both already were looking ahead to how they could take on a larger role.

“Obviously (I’ll work on) my offensive game,” Withey said. “I don’t think I was too much of an offensive threat this year. A little bit here and there, maybe, but not what I’m capable of. So for next year, offensively, I’m going to try to get better and stronger and try and look like T-Rob. That’s the game plan.”

Asked if he thought KU’s future top duo could have the same type of chemistry that Taylor and Robinson enjoyed throughout the past couple of seasons, Withey said there was no question about it.

“Definitely,” he said. “Me and Elijah get along really well. I love the guy. He’s a great point guard, we’ll both be seniors, and we’ll have a great team next year. I’m really excited for the opportunity to be a leader. If we keep on getting better, I think this experience will only make us more hungry for next year.”

That’s the way teammates see things.

“Because of their experience and what they’ve done this year, there’s no way that they won’t be better players than what they were this year,” freshman guard Naadir Tharpe said. “That’s only going to help us get back to this point.”

Comments

Mike Ford 2 years, 8 months ago

xavier did pretty good tonight as the hornets beat the nuggets. awww nba haters in lawrence and their ku mythology.

bballwizard 2 years, 8 months ago

Kentucky just had three one and doner's so i am not sure that is a bad thing unless you dont like national championships

mom_of_three 2 years, 8 months ago

Kentucky had one and doners before - such as John Wall - and didn't win it all.
I agree with Gandalf. I think one and doners don't do much for team dynamics in the long run. Get rid of the one year rule... have the kid play in college because he wants to BE in college.

drnater 2 years, 8 months ago

Didn't win at all? Kentucky has gone farther than KU every year since Cal has coached there. Also, to whoever made the comment up there, Xavier played the 3, something Elijah has never done. You might be able to say Selby, but you'd look dumb going there too considering he was suspended early. It's more of Elijah didn't take control of his own destiny. We noticed his emergence when Tyshawn got suspended.

Jeff Kilgore 2 years, 8 months ago

I hear you, Gandalf. I prefer having players around for awhile to build that team chemistry. What Kentucky did isn't likely to happen again.

jonas_opines 2 years, 8 months ago

Calipari actually had a couple of his would-be one-doners stick around from last year to the next, so there was some legitimate Final Four experience on his squad this year. And he had Anthony Davis, they type of player that doesn't come around very often at all.

I always prefer watching a team develop over the years as opposed to a revolving door of ultra-talented players just waiting their year to move on. But our team should be pretty damned good regardless. Johnson and Withey and Releford as anchors, I think Young will pick up some slack with more opportunities during the non-conference. Same with Tharpe, who will probably have a lot more opportunities himself. We've got a couple recruits that will go into the 3 and 4 spots, two of whom are actually closer to true small-forwards as opposed to a guard-type. It'll be a fun year, like it always is.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 8 months ago

While I'm looking forward to a Withey/Johnson led team, please do not forget Travis Releford. A senior next year, he's been a too often forgotten player. He plays hard "D", scraps for every loose ball, does all the little things that a winning team needs. Withey/Johnson/Releford and all the newcomers will make next year's team a great team.

Jim Williamson 2 years, 8 months ago

I thoroughly enjoyed watching both of these guys improve so much over the course of the season, and I'm very geeked to see them, along with Releford, take the team over, but seriously: did anyone think they were going to declare for the draft?

martyks 2 years, 8 months ago

NBA haters in Lawrence? mythology? Huh? We have more players in the NBA than you have brain cells. Is it our fault that the NBA is about as exciting to watch as pudding dripping out of your mouth at feeding time? The whole season is a total sham. The playoffs CAN sometimes be interesting, but when you have a league full of primadonnas that shoot off their mouths more than they do from the perimeter, well, it's no wonder we happen to love the college game. Besides, it's a paper tiger to say we hate the NBA. It makes a perfect night light and helps us sleep. That 24 second, no zone, dribble fest, one on one, 4 extra steps on every drive game is pathetic, boring, and meaningless to any basketball fan. Why hate something so boring? We simply do not care.

rgh 2 years, 8 months ago

With McLemore at the shooting guard, we're going to be tough to stop. Throw in a 6' 9" power forward out of Wichita and we have a lot of depth to go along with very good starters. KU will be a force pre-season top 5 though that doesn't mean squat. We'll be much better and more athletic than this years team which was a lot of fun to watch anyway.

colreader 2 years, 8 months ago

Does anybody know who some of our pre-season opponents will be next Fall?

bosshawk 2 years, 8 months ago

I have heard that Julian Wrights twin nephews Toby and Mitch Wright may walk on next year. I hear they are very good.

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