“Regardless of whether he plays well or not, I don’t think anyone in our program ever questions how much admiration and respect we had for him,” Self said. “If it was me, I would stay in bed and pull the covers over my head and hope time passed, and he’s totally different.
“He had to attack life.”
He’s certainly attacked it on the court.
The first unanimous first-team All-American since Blake Griffin in 2009, Robinson already has set the single-season school record with 26 double-doubles. He’s averaging nearly 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, and always seems to be at his best when the opponent demands it.
“I’m lucky I get to go against T-Rob every day in practice,” said Withey, who has used every elbow he’s taken from his bruising teammate to toughen up his own game.
It’s not as though Withey was overlooked coming out of high school. The kid from California at one point committed to Rick Pitino and Louisville, which plays Kentucky in the other national semifinal Saturday night, before switching his allegiance to Arizona to be closer to home.
Wildcats coach Lute Olson soon retired, and Withey went looking yet again.
He settled on Kansas, even though he knew he’d be stuck behind a bunch of big men. He was willing to bide his time while Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins headed to the NBA, and has become one of the Jayhawks’ most important pieces after rarely playing a season ago.
“Jeff is one of those kids that is kind of laid-back,” Self said with a smile. “I don’t think he realizes how important he is to us sometimes.”
It’s become evident in the NCAA tournament.
Withey nearly set the single-game record by swatting 10 shots against North Carolina State last weekend, and then came up with two critical blocks in the closing minutes to help Kansas slip by North Carolina and reach the Final Four for the first time since winning the 2008 title.
“This tournament is an awesome opportunity for a lot of people that didn’t have a chance to show their skills during the regular season to have a chance,” Withey said. “There are a lot of great guys playing and to be able to go against guys like that makes me more excited to play.”