Kansas University basketball center Jeff Withey, who exploded for a career-high 25 points on Wednesday at Baylor, today will be cheered on by a legend who averaged 24.5 points a game in his three-year KU career.
That person would be 82-year-old Clyde Lovellette — the No. 4 scorer in school history — who will be honored at halftime of today’s KU-Oklahoma State game (3 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse) with other members of the Jayhawks’ 1952 NCAA title team.
“It’ll be cool to meet him and know he’s watching us play,” said Withey, a 7-foot, 235-pound junior, who is a tad bit taller than the 6-10 Lovellette. “I’m just going to go out like it’s any other game.”
It’s possible the presence of Lovellette may be today’s motivating factor for Withey, who admittedly sometimes needs extra prodding from teammates to get ultra-enthused for games.
“Before the game I’ll be sitting around trying to get myself ready. I’ll listen to music or whatever,” Withey said of “everything ... rap or rock.”
“Definitely playing at home is a lot easier just because you have the fans and loud noise. It’s easier to get pumped up. When I get on the court, I try getting (ticked) off somehow. It helps me whenever they (teammates) hit me on the chest or say something. I don’t hold grudges against them for doing that. I know they are trying to get me fired up,” he added.
KU coach Bill Self also motivates Withey, who takes an 8.8 scoring, 5.8 rebound average into today’s game.
“Talk to him. Yell at him. Challenge him,” Self said with a smile, referring to getting nice-guy Withey ready for action. “The whole thing this year is he’s really a good player. He can impact a game in so many ways. He doesn’t do it as consistently as what I think he’s capable of, but look where he started this year. He’s one of the most improved players in the country. It’s just that when he teases you and shows you what he’s capable of, you always want a little bit more.”
Withey’s breakout game at Baylor — he shattered his old career high scoring mark of 15 points versus Oklahoma on Feb. 1 — came with a batch of NBA scouts in the stands. He was asked Friday if the presence of the talent evaluators had him extra enthused.
“I don’t really think about that during the game. After the game I realize obviously Baylor has a lot of talent and there were going to be a lot of NBA guys around,” Withey said. “They are going to be everywhere. It doesn’t matter if they are there or watching on TV at home. It’s cool to be able to play in front of people like that. It’s an honor. It’s exciting.”
Draftexpress.com currently lists Withey as a mid-second-round NBA draft pick following his senior season (2013). He was asked Friday if more games like Wednesday’s might force him to make a decision about entering the draft or returning to school after this, his junior campaign.
“I am blessed to be where I’m at (KU),” Withey said. “If I can even be blessed to have the opportunity to make a decision, I’ll make the decision at that time. As of right now, I’m just trying to play one game.”
He, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford would be three returning starters next season. Tyshawn Taylor (senior) and Thomas Robinson, who is expected to turn pro after his junior campaign, will be the only lost starters.
“We will all be seniors. With Ben (McLemore) and Jamari (Traylor) and all the freshmen coming in, that would be a great team,” Withey said. “We’ve got Perry Ellis coming in. He’s a McDonald’s All-American. And a lot of other guys. The future is bright for sure.”
Withey is trying to help KU (19-5, 9-2) trip Oklahoma State (12-12, 5-6) and stay on course for KU’s eighth straight league title. KU and Missouri are tied for the league lead at 9-2.
“I know they play kind of small like Missouri with four guards,” Withey said of OSU. “ (Le’Bryan) Nash has been playing well lately and they have a lot of guys who can shoot from the outside. They are very athletic, so we’ll have to be ready to play.”
KU was a finalist for frosh forward Nash, who averages 15.5 points in league play — 13.4 ppg overall. Guard Keiton Page averages 14.2 ppg.
“They’re fast. They’ve got more highlight dunks and things like that than anybody in our league probably has,” Self said. “Markel Brown may be the best athlete in our league period. (Brian) Williams is an athlete. Nash is an athlete. (Michael) Cobbins is an athlete. I like their team, and they run good stuff offensively. Last year, we had a pretty good team, and we blew ‘em out and beat them by one (63-62) in Kansas City,” Self added with a smile.
This, that: KU’s players will wear 1952 throwback jerseys today. ... KU leads the all-time series with Oklahoma State, 104-53. KU has won 15 straight over OSU in Allen Fieldhouse dating to the 1990 season. KU has won seven of the last 11 meetings. ... Once Taylor gets his next steal, he will be only the fourth player in KU history with the combination of at least 1,300 points, 500 assists and 150 steals in his career. He will join former KU greats Darnell Valentine (1,821 points, 609 assists, 336 steals), Kirk Hinrich (1,753 points, 668 assists, 206 steals) and Adonis Jordan (1,373 points, 568 points, 181 steals). Taylor currently has 1,341 points, 511 assists and 149 steals.