Withey eager to get started with Pelicans
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Just like thousands of present-day New Orleans youngsters, as a child Jeff Withey’s favorite NFL quarterback was his hometown team’s signal-caller, Drew Brees. Just in a different city.
A native of San Diego, Withey was 11 years old when Brees made his professional debut with the Chargers in 2001. A dozen years later, Withey will be working near his boyhood idol, at the one-of-a-kind Metairie campus shared by New Orleans’ two professional sports franchises.
“I’m a huge Drew Brees fan,” Withey said. “I’m excited to be able to see him play.”
The 7-foot-1, 222-pounder from the University of Kansas officially became a new member of the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, when a three-team trade was approved by the NBA. Withey was a second-round pick by Portland (39th overall) in the June 27 draft, but was moved to a new team in the deal that also brought Tyreke Evans to New Orleans.
Given that the Pelicans entered the draft without a second-round pick, Withey had little reason to believe he would end up in the Crescent City. But in early July he saw reports that he may be included in a trade. Withey’s agent, Arm Tellem – who is also Robin Lopez’s agent – informed the 23-year-old that the deal was likely.
“I didn’t do a workout with (the Pelicans),” Withey said. “I did meet with them at the Chicago draft combine, and I thought it went really well. It’s just a weird string of events that got me here, but I’m extremely excited to be here.”
In addition to the coincidental link with the Saints’ superstar QB, the highlight of Withey’s college career took place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In 2011-12, Kansas advanced to the Final Four, where it met Anthony Davis-led Kentucky in the championship game. Withey and Davis combined to block 10 shots in Kentucky’s 67-59 victory.
“I’m excited to be there,” Withey said of the Big Easy. “It was a really cool city. I went on Bourbon Street and got to experience that. I didn’t get to explore much, but from what I did see, I liked it.”
Withey was also pleased to join a coaching staff that puts significant emphasis on defense, which is undoubtedly his biggest strength. He averaged 3.9 blocks during his senior season with the Jayhawks, to go with 13.7 points and 8.5 rebounds.
“I know Coach (Monty Williams) really loves defense, and that’s his main focus,” Withey said. “I’m excited to be a part of it, because that’s what I do well. I love defense, block shots, rebound, do a lot of the dirty work – that’s what I’m known for.”
Withey’s patience was tested recently by the complications of a trade that he knew could not be approved until July 10. While many other NBA rookies have been able to participate in team activity since the draft, Withey missed the first three days of Pelicans summer-league practice. Over the next 10-plus days, he hopes to make a positive impression on his coaches and brand-new teammates.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming about this day forever and it’s finally here. It took a little bit longer – I wish I could’ve participated (in practices) a little bit sooner – but I’m happy to be here and ready to start working.”