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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA big man recruit doing it all for San Diego high school

    UA signee Jeff Withey takes a shot during Arizonas elite camp in August in McKale Center. Witheys interior skills on offense and defense should earn him time as a freshman, not to mention a perimeter game hes working on.
    UA signee Jeff Withey takes a shot during Arizona’s elite camp in August in McKale Center. Withey’s interior skills on offense and defense should earn him time as a freshman, not to mention a perimeter game he’s working on.

    MESA – Jeff Withey stands as a giant among boys as a 7-foot high school center for San Diego Horizon.

    A recent opponent even called the Arizona signee ranked No. 39 in the recruiting service’s class of 2008 rankings the biggest human he has ever seen after a late December game in Mesa at the Arizona Basketball Challenge.

    A year away from having to battle the Robin Lopez’s and Jeff Pendergraph’s of the world, Withey is playing out his senior year as the focal point for his high school squad on both offense and defense.

    “”He’s definitely a big force in the middle, he finishes around the basket and he definitely changes games,”” said Waheed Mitchell, Withey’s head coach. “”He changes games on both ends of the floor. He makes guys have to guard him, he demands a double, triple team, so that’s helping other guys be able to get shots off.

    “”Then on defense he can put pressure on guys coming to the basket, so he makes other teams become a perimeter team.””

    If his coach has any complaint about Withey, it’s that he’s too unselfish at times, dishing the ball out to teammates – who often clanked open shots in the four-day Mesa event – instead of taking advantage of “”opportunities to score at will,”” Mitchell said, against smaller opponents.

    However, when Arizona’s coaches watch Withey’s ability to hit the open man, they must be drooling over what he could do when surrounded by scorers like Brandon Jennings and Nic Wise – and maybe even Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger.

    The Wildcats could run their offense through Withey at times due to his prowess in finding open teammates, rare for a player his size.

    “”In high school you get double-, triple-teamed, and you have to be able to create,”” said Withey, who averages 20.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. “”So I have to be able to pass the ball, and it’s just basketball instincts.””

    Defensively, Withey’s a shot blocker who doesn’t like to shy too far from the basket. It’s for good reason because he has blocked 7.3 shots per game this season after rejecting 7.0 per game last year.

    It looked like those skills would be headed to Louisville when Withey committed to the Cardinals in October of 2006, but the San Diego native reopened his recruitment in June hoping to sign with a school closer to home because his grandma moved in with his family for health reasons and so his parents could more easily watch him play.

    It took him all of 19 days to realize he wanted to attend Arizona, the school that started recruiting him before any other during his freshman year.

    At the tournament in Mesa, Withey’s mom said that his trainer, Trent Suzuki, was always in his ear about Arizona. Suzuki, who also trains UA forward and San Diego native Chase Budinger, has worked with Withey since his freshman year.

    Suzuki, who referred to Arizona as “”we,”” said he favored the Wildcats in part because of the way the school has handled Budinger, saying that all programs make promises during the recruiting process but that he’s seen Arizona’s coaches be “”men of their word.””

    Also, the No. 1 thing Suzuki looks for in a program for his clients is playing time, and the Wildcats could offer him a starting spot either alongside forward Jordan Hill or in place of him if he bolts. The next biggest thing involves being coached by somebody who can get him to the next level, and UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill’s NBA experience fits that bill.

    “”It was pretty much a no-brainer,”” Suzuki said. “”He picked Louisville but didn’t consider how far away it is. His parents would never be able to see him. The way Arizona uses (its) bigs under K.O., those guys set screens, can pick and pop and pick and roll. K.O. uses bigs the way the NBA does, and obviously Jeff’s goal is to one day play there. The sooner he gets NBA training the better.””

    Withey, still skinny with 225 pounds on his 7-foot frame, has participated in plenty of strength training workouts with Suzuki over the years. That includes what Suzuki called “”hardcore strength programs”” involving dead lifts, one-leg squats, bench press reps, lat pulldowns and other mass building exercises, as well as other routines to improve his quickness.

    Suzuki also wants Withey to eat 5,000-6,000 calories per day so he can show up around 240 pounds next year to be able to battle the giants of the Pac-10. Withey’s weight has been a concern to Suzuki since they started working together when the center stood 6-foot-9 and weighed 190 pounds.

    “”Skill-wise he’ll be right there,”” Suzuki said. “”He’s athletic and can jump real well. He’s put on 45-plus (pounds), but we’re not close.””

    When Suzuki first started working with Withey, he was purely a back-to-the-basket player who could not shoot. Although Suzuki said his ball-handling skills could still use some work, he added Withey has spent a “”tremendous amount of time”” improving his perimeter game, while working on “”mostly guard stuff”” like outside shooting last summer.

    Along with grueling summer beach workouts, he participated in the same skill workouts as Budinger, a prototypical perimeter player.

    When Withey arrives in Tucson, Suzuki said he expects an adjustment period for him in terms of toughness, kind of like what Budinger went through last year, because neither played developed a “”streetball mentality”” in laidback San Diego.

    However, he did form relationships with Arizona’s two current San Diego Wildcats, playing AAU ball with forward Jamelle Horne besides his summer workouts with Budinger.

    At the high school level, coach Mitchell has seen Withey grow in his four years on varsity in all facets of his game, which he expects to carry over well to college basketball.

    “”He should be real successful at the next level because one thing he has is timing, and you can’t teach timing, and you can’t teach his touch around the basket,”” Mitchell said. “”So at the next level they’re going to be in trouble with him as well as he starts getting older and stronger and seeing that college teams, they’re going to have to double team him as well. If not, he’s going to go to work down low.””

    For now, Withey toils on an 8-7 Horizon team that lost big contributors from last year’s CIF Southern Regional Division IV championship game team.

    While Withey plays for a squad with players not on his level against opponents as much as a foot smaller than him who are more like annoying gnats taking charges and hitting his knees than legitimate defenders, he sees better days ahead.

    “”I cannot wait to go to Arizona,”” Withey said. “”It’s going to be a big change. It’s going to be real fun.””

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