LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas coach Bill Self has a way of motivating his players. Center Jeff Withey got the message loud and clear.
Unhappy with his seven-footer’s effort level a few days after going scoreless in the biggest game of the season at Missouri, Self excused Withey from practice. He had a new assignment.
“I didn’t get a rebound or something and coach was kind of mad so he said go touch every stair in the building,” Withey said. “So I went and statred running up every isle. Ever since then, I know coach depends on me and my teammates depend on me to play great. “
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The results are nothing short of amazing. Withey was a non-factor in a 74-71 loss at Missouri, taking just one shot and grabbing just four rebounds in 23 minutes.
But a day after his sightseeing tour through the Allen Fieldhouse stands, Withey had a career-high 25 points in 29 minutes to lead the Jayhawks to a 68-54 win over No. 6 Baylor on the road.
Three days later, the junior had 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in a dominating performance against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse.
The streak continued Monday in Manhattan, when Withey had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks to lead Kansas to a tough 59-53 road win over rival Kansas State.
“He’s unbelievable,” Self said. “Less than a week ago, his butt is touching every stair in our building because he wont try to go after the ball. I mean it’s unbelievable. And players are in his face and getting after him after the Missouri game, and then all of a sudden you make a couple baskets and get your confidence, and the next thing you know.”
Withey entered the Baylor game averaging 9.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. But he’s taken things to a new level in three games since, posting a ridiculous 20.3 points, 12 rebounds and 6.3 blocks per game.
The San Diego native has reached double figures in nine of his past 10 games. The only exception was the loss in Columbia, which has apparently awoken a sleeping giant.
And others around the Big 12 are beginning to take notice.
“That was a guy that couldn’t get in the game last year,” said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. “Bill used to try and play him and he would put him out there but then he’d have to take him out. Now he’s dominating games. He’s not just playing – he’s dominating Big 12 games.
“I don’t think there’s a big kid in the country that does what he does for his team right now.”
One of Withey’s noticeable traits is his ability to turn defense into offense by feeding off a big block with extra intensity or energy on the offensive end. Monday against Kansas State he followed up a huge block with a big slam dunk on the other end.
Unlike earlier in the year, Withey is become a factor on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He’s been arguably the biggest key in each of the wins in the Jayhawks’ current three-game winning streak.
“He’s skilled,” said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. “He’s very skilled. He’s not the most mobile guy but he understands that and he makes up for it, he really does. I think he has a very good understanding of the game and what makes him a good player and his strengths and weaknesses.
“I’ve been impressed with him. I’ve watched a lot of tape and you just see the progression of him. I think he fully understands he’s playing with the best player in America and I think he slowly figured out, ‘Hey, this is a positive for me. This is good. I can feed off this.'”
But Withey doesn’t appear to be satisfied with his recent success. He’s hungry for more. And that has Self and the Jayhawks even more excited.
“My confidence level is really high right now,” Withey said. “It’s been really fun the last couple games but they’ve been so back-to-back, I feel like I haven’t even had time to stop and breathe and see what’s going on.
“I definitely needed to pick it up after the Missouri game. I never want that to happen again. I’ve needed to step it up. I don’t want to be running the bleachers any more.”
If he continues to play even close to what he’s done the past three games, Withey won’t have to worry about any extra running anytime soon.