LAWRENCE — Jeff Witheys parents picked out a picturesque beach house for Thursday nights NBA Draft. Mission Beach. Right near the shore. The same sands where Mike and Debbie Witheys son used to play volleyball and hang out on the weekend in his hometown of San Diego.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
That was the place, Withey says, where he refined the skills that would one day make him a shot-blocking savant and a potential first-round pick in this years NBA Draft. And on Thursday night, Withey will return to Mission Beach and wait to hear his name read by NBA commissioner David Stern.
A little family get-together, Withey says. Ill be anxious.
But as Withey waits, its perhaps another story, one from his freshman season at Kansas, that might suggest something about his budding NBA career. Withey was a skinny 7-footer then, the sixth-best post player on a Kansas team that received a No. 1 seed, and Withey wasnt even sure if hed be good enough to play for Bill Self let alone in the NBA.
It took me a lot longer than I thought, Withey says. Id be lying if I didnt say I had doubts. I thought I was good enough to play, but I never knew if I was gonna be able to hit the floor on Kansas team.
So its all about just getting on the floor and showing people that I can play.
The same, of course, could be said about Witheys impending professional career. For now, Withey is embracing a patient approach. And hes not just talking about draft night, when he is expected to be taken at some point in the latter stage of the first round.
Withey would like to carve out a long career. And that means proving he can be a little more than a prodigious shot-blocker and 7-foot frame off the bench.
When you talk about a career, youre talking eight (to) 10 years, Self said. I think the big thing with him would be, obviously, going to a good team. Hell be much better playing with good players or a good team than he would be (going to) teams that need him to produce.
If thats the case, Withey could fall into a fortunate position on draft night, where hell likely be taken by a playoff team with plenty of talent on the roster.
I see San Antonio or Miami or these teams that are really, really good, Self said. (And I think) Gosh, how nice would it be to have a shot-blocker thats 7-foot to come in and change the game and battle guys around the rim.
Hes not a natural scorer yet. Hes not a guy that you can draft and say, Well, hes definitely got to give this team 13 points and eight rebounds or hes gonna be a flop.
I dont think thats what hes gonna be. I think hes gonna be, early in his career, a very nice complimentary guy that can have a role.
Withey says hes open to any role on any team, just as long as he gets an opportunity. But he also believes he has the versatility to guard both power forwards and centers in the NBA, especially if he can add some weight and flexibility during the next few years.
Ive played against guys that are a lot stronger than me, Withey said. Defense is all a mind-set, so the physical part is not as big as the mental part.
When Withey was at Kansas, Self used to say that Withey fell in love with basketball. Thats probably true, Withey says, and there was something special about playing at Kansas. But as Withey prepares for a draft night in San Diego, he says his NBA dreams began way before that.
Id watch Space Jam and want to be just like Michael Jordan, Withey said. So its definitely been a dream of mine forever.