Withey glad to move on from Arizona without separation being “too dirty”by Javier Morales on Nov. 27, 2010, under Sports
LAS VEGAS — One of the more interesting angles of this iBN.com Las Vegas Invitational is the people who were once part of the Arizona program but are now wearing different colors.
Former UA guard Garland Judkins is here with Division II Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He scored 11 points to help the Islanders beat Bethune-Cookman 69-65 Friday afternoon.
Former UA director of basketball operations Jamall Walker is here as an assistant coach with Ohio, which was blown out by No. 6 Kansas 98-41 Friday night at the Orleans Arena.
And the biggest of them all — literally — is 7-foot, 225-pound Kansas reserve center Jeff Withey, who enrolled at Arizona in 2008 after starring at San Diego Horizon High School. Withey had seven points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes against Ohio.
He will be the first Kansas post player to enter the game tonight, when he faces his former school — not team — at the Orleans Arena (tipoff is at 8:30 p.m., Tucson time). It’s not really his former team because Withey never played for the Wildcats. He transferred to Kansas after completing the fall semester of his freshman season at Arizona in 2008.
Withey’s separation from the program — sparked by Lute Olson‘s leave of absence that year — could have been a messy experience. Former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood did not immediately grant Withey a release from his scholarship because he was concerned about the school’s Academic Progress Rating.
The NCAA penalizes schools that lose transfers, especially those who leave while academically ineligible. The penalty can be as severe as losing scholarships. Ultimately, a scholarship release was granted on the grounds that Withey completed his first semester. Had Withey left abruptly and not completed his academic requirements that semester Arizona would have been adversely affected.
“I deserved to do that for the program,” Withey told me after Kansas’ game against Ohio. “They gave me a scholarship, so it was on me to finish out. It’s what I had to do. I’m thankful for the program giving me a release.
“I’m glad that we both moved on without it being too dirty.”
Withey, a soft-spoken sort, was never brash about leaving Arizona. High-profile recruit Emmanuel Negedu requested out of his scholarship from Arizona under the same circumstances at roughly the same time. However, Negedu let it be known with some media members how upset he was about Olson not immediately being receptive about releasing him from his letter of intent.
In a 2008 interview with the Tucson Citizen’s Steve Rivera, Negedu was frank about how he perceived Arizona after Olson went on his leave of absence.
“There have been so many changes that I feel they’ve lied to me all along about the situation,” said Negedu, who transferred to Tennessee and is now at New Mexico after suffering heart problems while with the Volunteers. “Everything has changed a lot since I’ve signed down there. I can’t take it no more.”
Withey insists he has no regrets about signing with Arizona and spending part of his life in Tucson.
“I see it as a positive thing,” about his brief experience in Tucson. “I try to spin everything into a positive thing. I learned a lot while I was at Arizona. I met some people who are going to be my friends. I don’t regret it one single bit. I enjoyed my time there. I’m moving on. I’m happy where I’m at now.”
Kansas coach Bill Self, who has experienced his share of battles with Arizona on the court and recruiting trail, said he may talk with Withey before tonight’s game to make sure the sophomore center does not put too much pressure on himself.
“I don’t think that will happen,” Self said about Withey feeling the onus of having to be successful against Arizona. “I may say something to him. It is not a situation where he has to play at such a high level for us to win.
“We need good minutes from him, but it’s not like he has to get 15 points and 10 rebounds.”
The perception of Withey’s involvement with Kansas is different in Tucson and Lawrence. Withey does not start for the Jayhawks. He averages 10 minutes a game, the least in Self’s 10-player rotation. He averages 4.2 points and only 2.8 rebounds per game. Folks in Kansas could not really care less about how much pressure Withey might place on himself tonight.
“When you hear about those type of things (players playing against their former team), it’s like Brett Favre going back to Green Bay,” Self said. “You don’t talk about the offensive tackle going back to Green Bay that much. Jeff is one of our rotation guys. He’ll be excited no question about it. But I don’t think that will be a huge factor.”
Withey acknowledges that Olson is gone, as is assistant coach Josh Pastner — both of whom were instrumental in him signing with Arizona. The only remnants that remain from his brief time at Arizona are his former teammates Jamelle Horne (who is also from San Diego), Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender and Alex Jacobson.
“I still have a lot of good friends on the team — I still talk to them on Facebook from time to time — but it’s a whole different program now (under second-year coach Sean Miller),” Withey said. “It’s just another basketball game to me. Of course, I’m going to want to play hard. But I am more excited than nervous. I won’t be too hyped for the game.”
Withey’s primary concern is working his way back into 100 pecent basketball shape after suffering a sprained right thumb during summer workouts and breaking a bone in his foot in September.
“So far so good,” he said about his condition. “The foot still gets sore every now and then. Right now, it feels good while I’m playing and that’s all I need. I’ve been practicing full-speed every time.”