Just three months ago, senior center Jeff Withey was in the process of introducing himself to the country. As Kansas made its run to the NCAA title game, Withey controlled the interior, setting the record for blocks in a single NCAA Tournament.
By the time the six-game run was over, Withey had recorded 31 blocks, eclipsing the mark of 29 set by Florida’s Joakim Noah in 2006. The tourney performance was perhaps the tipping point for a breakout junior season. And it leads to the obvious question: What can the 7-foot center do for an encore?
For Kansas coach Bill Self, the answer starts where it usually begins with Withey — his strength — but then, not surprisingly, it drifts to offense.
“He needs to be a guy that can get 13, 14 (points) a game for us,” Self said Thursday on the Big 12 summer teleconference, “and still hopefully, (he can) protect the rim as well as he did this year on the other end.”
Withey averaged 9.0 points and 6.3 rebounds while playing 24.3 minutes per game last season. (His numbers — 10.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 25.8 minutes — were slightly higher in Big 12 play.)
According to advanced metrics, Withey was the 10th most efficient offensive player in the Big 12. His Offensive Rating (ORtg.), according to KenPom.com, was 117.7.
That number, of course, was inflated by the number of shots Withey took — and the fact he was no better than KU’s third offensive option on most possessions. (It’s easy to be efficient when you’re wide open on the weak side while opponents double Thomas Robinson.)
Still, Self believes Withey has room for improvement.
“I think that strength is obviously gonna be a factor with him,” Self said. “He’s gotta get stronger — lower-body especially.”
Summer could be crucial for young players
The numbers are blatantly obvious and top-heavy. In this upcoming 2012-13 season, Kansas will feature a roster of players that will have made a combined 128 starts at the Division I level. It’s just that, well, those starts come from just three players — seniors Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.
“It’s kind of a weird dynamic,” Self admits.
And it’s a dynamic that was on display on Wednesday, as the latest version of KU scrimmaged inside the Horejsi Center on campus.
When everyone is accounted for, it’s likely that the Jayhawks’ breakdown of scholarship players will look like this: four seniors, one sophomore and eight freshmen.
There are, of course, some reasons for the unbalanced classes. (Redshirt freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor are beginning their second year on campus after sitting out last season as partial qualifiers. And KU’s 2010 recruiting class included just two players: Josh Selby, who left for the NBA after one season, and Royce Woolridge, who transferred to Washington State.)
But it also means that this summer could be a pivotal time for Self and the newcomers. The Jayhawks will have 10 practices in July before taking a four-game exhibition trip to Switzerland and France in August.
From a numbers standpoint, the Jayhawks will certainly be deeper when practice begins this fall. But after losing starters Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, the offseason work could shorten the learning curve during the opening leg of the non-conference schedule.
“Hopefully, the 10 practices will give us a better chance to be [ready],” Self said. “You know, I’m excited about taking our team to Switzerland and Paris this summer, but I’m probably more excited about the opportunity to practice with them 10 times and kind of get a feel for maybe some things guys can do within our schemes, and maybe adjusting some things.
“So I think it will be very beneficial for us and hopefully give us an opportunity to be better early in the season. You know, we’re gonna have four seniors. But other than that, we’re gonna be all young… all young.”
Two more freshmen?
All signs still point to Anrio Adams, a 6-foot-3 guard from Seattle, and Milton Doyle, a 6-foot-4 guard from Chicago, joining the recruiting class and arriving on campus once all the academic and paperwork hurdles are cleared.
When asked about Adams during the teleconference, Self was limited in his comments, saying nothing was official yet. (NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking specifically about recruits before the official paperwork is processed.)
For now, it appears both players are still in the process of clearing academic hurdles.
"He's gotta finish a couple things,” Self said of Adams, “before anything can really happen."