Before Thursday night’s NBA Draft, former Kansas center Jeff Withey made it pretty clear. He had no idea where he was heading, and that was just fine.
He had worked out for more than 15 teams, and Withey hoped that some team in the latter half of the first round would call his name. But even if it didn’t happen, he’d be grateful for any opportunity.
Turns out, Withey’s opportunity will come with the Portland Trailblazers, who selected him with the 39th overall pick in the second round. The Trailblazers, in fact, were one of the few teams that Withey didn’t work out for.
“It’s just sobering,” Withey said. “It’s just weird. I heard a lot of people say before the draft that they were working out with teams, and the team you don’t work out with most likely picks you.”
Withey, the most dominant shot-blocker in Big 12 history, now moves out West, to the land of hipsters, coffee shops and an NBA franchise that’s still seeking a return to past glory.
The Trailblazers finished 33-49 last season, 12 games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. But Withey will have the opportunity to make a team that includes All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year point guard Damian Lillard.
The Blazers took former Illinois center Meyers Leonard in the first round in 2012, but Withey could have a chance to add some defensive value to the Portland frontcourt.
"We were really happy that Jeff was there at 39," Portland general manager Neil Olshey said. "He’s a man. He’s a fifth-year-senior. Physically, he can play in our league right away. He’s an elite shot-blocker; he can protect the rim. And he comes from a high-pedigree program with Kansas.”
Withey, 7 feet and 235 pounds, finished his Kansas career by averaging 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks during his senior season, helping the Jayhawks to a No. 1 seed and Sweet 16 appearance.
The questions, of course, surround Withey’s offensive game and his ability to guard NBA centers. But Withey is confident that he’ll be able to do both at the NBA level.
On Thursday night, as he watched from his family’s watch party in San Diego, he had to wait nearly half the night to hear his name called. But Withey, who referenced his Christian faith, said he believed God had put him in the right situation.
“My whole thought process was, maybe this next (pick), maybe this next one," Withey said. "And then when it was finally called, it was just kind of a relief. I felt very happy to be able to go to a cool place like Portland and right away, I was on the internet searching 'Portland' and seeing what the city was like.
"So I’m really happy and I’m really excited to go there.”