The Kansas Jayhawks trailed the North Carolina Tar Heels, 30-21, at halftime in the third round of this year's NCAA Tournament. The No. 1 seed was on the brink of going home much earlier than anticipated and, as was the case three years before, it would have been another disappointing ending for a top-seeded Kansas team.
That was until an incensed Jeff Withey got a rise out of his teammates.
Withey, normally a soft-spoken individual who let his play do the talking while at Kansas, got in the faces of his teammates in the locker room. That move eventually motivated the Jayhawks to blow up with a 49-point second half and an eventual 12-point win to advance in the tournament.
Withey's college career eventually ended at the hands of national runner-up Michigan in the next round, but the Kansas big man didn't go down without a fight — and that's a lot more than what was being said about him a couple of years earlier. No, Jeff Withey's road to becoming the No. 39 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers wasn't an easy one.
Withey couldn't get off the bench during his first two years in Lawrence, as he averaged just three minutes per game as a freshman in 2009-10 and was only able to double his playing time the following year. How did a guy considered the eighth-best center in the country out of high school so badly struggle to find his footing?
Withey's high school career ended when his Horizon High School team knocked off San Joaquin Memorial — which featured future NBA players Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Quincy Pondexter — in the Southern California Regional Championship. From there, the center took his game to the University of Arizona after decommitting from Louisville. Withey's tenure for the Wildcats' basketball squad lasted just two practices, though, before he decided to put in a transfer request following the departure of head coach Lute Olson.
Needless to say, the school and fanbase were unhappy with Withey's decision.
Arizona initially denied Withey's request before deciding to release him from his scholarship in December of 2008. Withey rarely left his dorm room prior to his request being approved, due to fear of being belittled by fellow students. In fact, one group allegedly threatened bodily harm.
Withey eventually sought refuge in Lawrence, but fought through illness and injuries that limited his playing time. He considered transferring again, but ultimately decided against it as to not further damage his reputation. Instead, Withey honed his game in practice against four future NBA first-round draft picks -- Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson -- while trying to prove his worth to Jayhawks coach Bill Self.
Withey started to see the floor more often as a junior, when he got 24.8 minutes of action per game, and rewarded the coaches for their decision by breaking out with a 25-point performance against No. 6 Baylor. Withey followed that up with an 18-point, 20-rebound effort against Oklahoma State. That's when Jayhawks coaches finally began to see the value they had in the 7'0, 235-pound San Diego native.
Withey scored in double-figures just once during Kansas' run to the National Championship game, but blocked ten shots in a Sweet 16 victory over NC State. He finished second in the country in blocks with 140 despite being a part-time player. That skill would carry over into his senior season, too, thanks in part to many hours spent playing volleyball with his family as a child.
The center upped his output to 13.7 points per contest last season. His 146 blocks led the nation by a wide margin, too, and his performance resulted in second-team All-American honors.
Withey worked hard to right the ship during his college career, and the results speak for themselves. He's not done writing his story, but he's already made more out of himself than most folks imagined when his career at Kansas began.