The rejections have spawned their own cult following.
There’s the hashtag (#WitheyBlockParty) and the website (WitheyBlockParty.com), but mostly this season there has just been the frustration by opponents who all too often have seen the shots they put up against Kansas center Jeff Withey quickly sent away from the basket.
“He affects the game in so many ways,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Walker, whose team will have the next crack at the nation’s leading shot blocker when No. 6 Kansas visits United Spirit Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday. “It’s not just the blocks, but the hurries. That’s something that a lot of people don’t chart.”
The 7-foot senior, last season’s Big 12 defensive player of the year, has 77 blocks this season and is on pace to break the Big 12 record he set as a junior for blocks in a season (140). He also is on pace to become Kansas’ career blocks leader. Not bad for a guy who didn’t start until his junior season.
But those numbers don’t paint a full picture of just how dominant a presence he has been for the Jayhawks (13-1, 1-0 in Big 12), who ride into Lubbock on a 12-game winning streak.
“There are some unbelievable positives about shot blockers,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “but there are some negatives about guys who go after every shot. Jeff doesn’t do that. Jeff picks and chooses his spots pretty well. I don’t know if the shot block does justice to his defensive ability, because he changes the game. He changes scouting reports because he is so effective, and he has an unbelievable knack for blocking shots and keeping them in bounds where we can retrieve them.”
So what can a team like Texas Tech (8-5, 1-1) do to neutralize Withey’s game-changing abilities?
“The only thing you can do is try to get him away from the basket,” Walker said. “Even doing that, he just has a way of covering so much ground. He’s definitely something to deal with, and he’s definitely on the list of concerns, very high, as far as our priorities.”
Withey blocked a combined six shots in two games against the Red Raiders last season — the Jayhawks won both by an average margin of 34 points — and forwards Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert said taking smart shots is the key to limiting Withey’s effectiveness.
“You just have to be real patient and take the right shot,” Tolbert said. “If you don’t, he’ll block it.”
Added Crockett: “We can’t just go in there out of control and throw up shots, because he will block those. Get him off the ground, pump fake. Even when the guards get there, try to get some fouls on him.”
Jordan Tolbert has given junior teammate Jaye Crockett a nickname designed to honor his effectiveness as a sixth man.
“I call Jaye ‘The Microwave,’” Tolbert said Friday. “There was a player in the NBA, Vinnie Johnson, and he always came off the bench. He was ‘The Microwave’ because every time he came in the game, he picked the flow up. It means a lot for someone of that caliber to come off the bench, especially being a junior.”
As the nation’s top sixth man, Crockett leads Tech in scoring (14.8 points per game) and rebounding (8.5).
“Coming off the bench and being able to be a spark for the team, I feel that’s great,” Crockett said. “I didn’t want to be a distraction, complaining about not being in the starting lineup or anything like that. Coach (Walker) makes sure he gets me out there. He plays me, so I have no problem with it. Coming off the bench is just my role, and I really like it.”
Despite coming off the bench, Crockett leads Tech with 26.7 minutes played per game.
Bail visits Lubbock
Wannah Bail, who was enrolled at Texas Tech for the first summer semester last year before leaving the school, was back in Lubbock on Friday for an official visit.
Bail, a 6-foot-7 forward out of Lamar Consolidated, signed with Tech last year and joined the team for a short period, then left the program before the start of fall practice. CBSSports.com, in September report, cited a negative relationship with former coach Billy Gillispie as Bail’s reason for leaving the team.
Bail, an ESPN top 100 recruit, spent the last semester at a prep school in the Canary Islands but has since returned to the United States, and there is a possibility he could re-join the Red Raiders before the start of next season. Bail has strong ties to Tech interim coach Chris Walker, who was at the forefront of the player’s original recruitment to Tech.
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