Kansas University junior center Jeff Withey hasn’t been surprised by his season-long success at the free-throw line.
“I’ve been pretty good throughout my basketball career,” Withey, a 7-foot, 235-pounder from San Diego, said after hitting six of seven charities in Monday’s 64-54 victory over Texas A&M in Allen Fieldhouse.
That followed Saturday’s eight-of-nine effort in a 69-66 victory at Texas.
“I definitely work on it every day. Before practice, I’ll shoot between 50 and 100 free throws. I know they are free points, so I have to make them.”
Withey has converted 50 of 59 free throws for a team-leading 84.7 percent. He made just 17 of 33 in limited duty last year for 51.5 percent.
“I’ve been practicing free throws since the beginning of the season,” Withey said. “This year I’ve definitely improved. I’ve been working at it and will continue to work at it.”
Withey made sure to mention the free-throwing of fellow big man Thomas Robinson, who went 10 for 10 from the line versus A&M. The two combined to cash 16 of 17 free throws, quite important in a close game.
“Thomas was great tonight, 10-for-10. He came up big for us again,” Withey said.
Overall this season, Withey has made 52.3 percent of his field goal attempts to go with the torrid free-throw mark.
“One of the underrated things he’s doing ... he’s shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line which is very good for a big man,” KU assistant coach Joe Dooley said, subbing for head coach Bill Self on Tuesday’s Hawk Talk radio show. “He draws a lot of fouls. It’s a good thing because at the end of a game, a lot of times you have to take guys out. You can leave him in the game to protect the basket and also know if he rebounds the ball, you’ve got a pretty good free-throw shooter. When he rebounds it, we hopefully can go to the other end and make free throws.”
Withey — he averages 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds with 66 blocks in 20 games — swatted eight of Texas A&M’s shots on Monday. He had seven and six blocks respectively in wins over Iowa State and Kansas State.
“What we are getting out of Jeff is consistency,” Dooley said. “It’s not necessarily shots he blocks, but also ones he alters ... or people stop and shoot pullups as opposed to getting all the way to the rim. As he gets through this year into next year, he will continue to develop.”
That’s the plan, Withey said.
“I don’t want to let anybody down. I want to keep growing as a basketball player and get better,” he said. “I’m definitely in the right place for that with coach Self and coach Manning (Danny, big-man coach). I’m going to keep trying to get better.”
Withey and Robinson hit six of 15 floor shots Monday on a night Tyshawn Taylor cashed six of nine shots, including three of six threes, for 17 points. Taylor scored 22 points in Saturday’s win over Texas and 28 in back-to-back contests versus Baylor and Iowa State. He’s had 18 assists to 11 turnovers the last four games.
“Tyshawn is playing great,” Withey said. “He’s our point guard. It’s what we expect from him. He’s a senior, been a starter four years. He’s our captain. We’ll jump on his back and let him take us on a ride.
“He got a lot of blame early on in the season (from fans). In the locker room, we are uplifting him. We know how he can play. He’s showing it now. We know he can play like this. Early on we knew that wasn’t Tyshawn. This is the Tyshawn we see every day.”
Noted Dooley: “Tyshawn’s not turning it over as much in spurts. In Tyshawn’s defense — and coach (Self) has alluded to this so many times — the ball is in his hands so much more than any player we’ve had since we’ve been here. He has to do so many things. He is continuing to grow, adapting to his role, knowing when he needs to score and when he needs to be a distributor, which he has done well the past couple of weeks.”
KU will next meet Iowa State at 1 p.m., Saturday, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
McDonald’s All-Americans: Several future KU basketball players are among the several hundred nominees for the McDonald’s All-America basketball game. They are: Perry Ellis, 6-8, Wichita Heights; Anrio Adams, 6-3, Seattle’s Rainier Beach High, Landen Lucas, 6-8, Portland’s Westview High; Zach Peters, 6-9, Prestonwood Christian Academy, Plano, Texas; Andrew White, 6-6, Miller School, Chester Va. The game will be played on March 28 in Chicago. The rosters will be announced during the McDonald’s All-America Selection Show at 2 p.m. Feb. 9 on ESPNU.