Jeff Withey Will Be Kansas Basketball's Most Important Player

Ryan ReschContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 31:  Jeff Withey #5 of the Kansas Jayhawks with the ball against Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half during the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on March 31, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The story of the NCAA tournament may have been Anthony Davis and his incredible play, but there was one player who outperformed the 2012 Player of the Year in the tournament in terms of blocks: Jeff Withey. With his 31 blocks in the NCAA tournament, Withey not only set the record, but also outshined Davis at his own game.

Withey has had an interesting journey for Kansas. He was originally signed by Arizona before requesting a release his freshman year. That request was initially denied but then granted, and Withey packed his bags for Kansas, one of the schools that initially recruited him.

Now, Withey, a center from San Diego, CA, will be the most important player for the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2012-13 season. With the loss of Thomas Robinson to the NBA draft, head coach Bill Self will need Withey to step up to the plate and fulfill not only the player’s role but the leader’s role as well—and Withey has shown that he is more than capable of adapting to the situation.

In his early days, he was not the most refined player. He did not have the best fundamentals or basketball IQ to play the game at a high level. He had trouble with his post moves and fell into some bad habits when gaining the ball off the pass, but he powered through those weaknesses each year and continued to improve.

Now, Withey has a burgeoning set of post moves and an increasing offensive ability. He showed he can put up big numbers for his role last year with a 15-point showing against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

Withey is an athlete that is willing to work hard and try to bring his game to the next level. With another full offseason of improvement under his belt, he should be able to add to his offensive skill set. Now that he will be one of the more veteran players for the Jayhawks—and one of the longest—he will have the opportunity to put his offseason work to the test.

Speaking of length, this is where Withey really impresses. He stands at 7’0’’ and knows how to use his height to his advantage. He has combined his athleticism with this length to become one of the most dominant defensive players in the country in terms of shot-blocking and pressure in the paint. This defense is going to be important in conference play, as the Big 12 has an impressive roster of big men that will be looking to dethrone the Jayhawks.

There is some concern as to whether or not Withey will be able to handle the pressure of an increased offensive role, but he has shown that he knows how to grow and perform for his team when he has to.

It will be interesting to see how his veteran leadership helps some of the younger players on the team, especially Ben McLemore, a potential star, who will be coming off a freshman season in which he was deemed ineligible.

Jeff Withey will be the most important player on the court next season for the Jayhawks. If he grows in the offseason, which is expected, he will be one of the most complete centers in the game.