Jeff Withey focuses on adding strength to 7-foot frame
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
New Orleans Pelicans center Jeff Withey is a California native who also has family in Kansas, but it might be wise to address his mail this summer to the weight room at 5800 Airline Drive in Metairie. That’s where Withey seems destined to spend a chunk of his offseason, working to add muscle and bulk to his 7-foot, 222-pound frame.
“I’m going to continue to do whatever it takes to get stronger, because in this league, somebody with my body frame can’t last that long,” Withey said Wednesday after making his first NBA start vs. Toronto. “I played (only) 26 minutes and I feel beat up already. I need to pack on that weight so I can take the beating.”
If his rookie NBA season is any indication, the Pelicans are confident that the 24-year-old will devote the necessary time to improving his body and stamina. Despite lengthy stretches of not getting on the floor early in 2013-14 – including a total of 24 DNPs due to coach’s decision – Withey has consistently been one of the earliest-rising Pelicans players.
“He’s the first guy in the gym every day,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “I’m pleased with that. His biggest deal this summer – and I’m sure the young guys all realize this – is what kind of shape they have to be in to play this game. The weight room has to be his friend, and his conditioning’s got to go up, because (the NBA season is) a grind for young guys.”
“As a rookie, I feel like you’ve got to be there before everyone else and put in the work,” Withey said. “I’m thankful that I have coaches who will do that with me and be in the gym to help me out. It stinks waking up two or three hours before practice starts, but it’s paying off. I’ve got to keep it up. It’s a process.”
A 2013 second-round pick who was acquired by New Orleans in the three-team, sign-and-trade deal for Tyreke Evans, Withey is a step ahead of many young big men due to his athleticism and above-average hands. He showed sporadic glimpses of his ability over the first few months of the season, including a 14-point outing vs. Sacramento on Jan. 21, but only recently has been consistently on the court during the meat of games. Given the injuries New Orleans has sustained this season, Withey is one of several Pelicans who’ve gone from being able to develop in practices to getting thrown into the fire of games. Withey became the 12th different New Orleans player to start in 2013-14.
“It felt a little different,” Withey said, after totaling nine points and four rebounds in his first start. “When I come off the bench, I get a little time to see the way the defense is playing. When you start, you learn on the go. I was just trying to pick up everything I could. It was a little bit faster, but I felt very comfortable.”
In addition to bulking up this summer, Withey plans to participate in July’s Las Vegas summer league with the Pelicans. Over the final 15 games of the regular season, he hopes to continue to make strides on the floor, so that he won’t feel like an inexperienced pro when the 2014-15 campaign approaches.
Williams has mentioned recently that he’d like to get players like Withey, second-year forward Darius Miller and in-season signee Luke Babbitt additional minutes in the next month.
“I want to be really confident, then get to where in summer league I can show all of my work that I’ve done,” Withey said. “That’s awesome that Coach is going to let us play. I’m just going to try to make the most of it. I want to get to the point where I get real comfortable, so that way next year I don’t have learning pains.”