Tall Expectations

Jeff Withey entered this season with great expectations after a breakthrough year in 2011-12. Withey, the 7-foot KU senior center, is a preseason All-Big 12 selection, an Associated Press All-America Honorable Mention, a senior CLASS Award candidate, and just Thursday was selected as one of 50 players named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list.

But during the first three halves against Emporia State and Washburn in exhibition play, Jeff Withey hasn't lived up to the hype.

In fact, he's been mainly MIA.

That all changed when Withey woke up after halftime against the Ichabods Monday night and showed fans what they remembered from last season. The big man exploded for nine points, seven rebounds and a whopping six blocks the final 20 minutes to almost net a triple-double.

"The first half (no points, one rebound and one block in 11 minutes) wasn't very good for me, but the second half, I kind of got it going," Withey said. "That's how I need to play every half. I felt good and I felt like I was back to myself. I was kind of in a funk the last month and a half, probably, just in practice and stuff. I haven't been doing that well. That second half definitely gave me some more confidence and I feel like I can build off  that (against Southeast Missouri State in the regular-season opener tonight)."

Withey wasn't exactly sure the cause of his funk, but said he might have had the "early jitters" starting practice up again.

Those jitters are hopefully out of his system now as the Jayhawks start the season for real tonight against the Redhawks. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

"I can't wait," Withey said. "It's been a long time coming. I think everybody is really excited."

The San Diego, Calif. native said the team has "taken a lot" from the first two exhibition games and expects KU to play a lot better tonight.

"It was our first time playing in front of a crowd for the freshmen, their first time experiencing what it's about to play in the fieldhouse," Withey said. "I think that's the most important thing we got out of it, just for them to get used to what it's going to be like. Our team is so young, we still don't know a lot of the plays and stuff like that. To have exhibition games, it definitely helps to be in a real game situation and have to know what to do."

What the Jayhawks didn't do was attack the paint off the dribble against Washburn. He said that should change tonight while he looks to block shots and be more assertive offensively. Withey said he's becoming more comfortable as KU's main post presence on offense.

"Without T-Rob (Thomas Robinson), all the pressure is kind of on me, but we got guys like Perry (Ellis), Justin (Wesley) and Kevin (Young, out with a broken right hand), who's going to be back pretty soon," Withey said. "They're going to take some pressure off me, so I won't have to worry too much about it, but as of right now, I'm feeling pretty confident. And I in practice, I'm getting better."

Withey realizes KU must get better quickly with a showdown against Michigan State looming on Nov. 13 in the Champions Classic in Atlanta, Ga. He hopes the Jayhawks enter that game boosted off a great effort this evening against Southeast Missouri State.

"Michigan State is going to be a really tough game, and we got to get it right," Withey said. "This (game tonight) is going to be a tough one itself so it will be a good way to get us ready for the whole season. We're excited to be able to go against some tough competition early. It will definitely help us out."

KU will certainly need a boost from a hungry Withey; how Withey plays this season will be a major factor in how successful the Jayhawks are. He knows he has to have his game face on from The Opening tip and play like he did in the second half against Washburn, when he dominated the Ichabods and showed why he was one of the premier defensive forces in the nation last season and a player who will contend for All-Big 12 and All-American honors this year.

And if he forgets to bring his game face, there's always coach Bill Self to remind him.

"He always keeps telling me to be more and more aggressive," Withey said with a smile. "I can never be too aggressive and that's something I'm definitely working on."

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