Jeff Withey ready to resume block party with Pelicans

LAS VEGAS — Now that the moratorium on trades and signings has lifted, Jeff Withey finally can say he is glad to be a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

What he couldn’t say Thursday, though, is whether he’ll be playing when the Pelicans open Summer League play against the New York Knicks at 3 p.m. CST Friday.

The Pelicans acquired Withey, a 7-foot, 235-pound center, from Portland and guard Tyreke Evans from Sacramento in a three-team trade last week. The Pelicans dealt Robin Lopez and Terrel Harris to Portland and Greivis Vasquez to Sacramento.

Withey, who was selected 39th in last month’s draft, appeared in 117 games with Kansas over four years. In his senior season, he set a school and Big 12 Conference blocked shots record with 146 (3.95 per game).

The California native ended his career as the all-time Kansas and Big 12 blocks leader with 312. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 and ’13. Now he’s the Pelicans’ tallest player at their four-day minicamp in the basement of UNLV’s Cox Pavilion.

“I’m very excited,” Withey said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. I know a lot of the guys on the team already. I played against Anthony (Davis), I played with Jrue (Holiday) back in high school and I know Tyreke (Evans) pretty well. I feel very comfortable, and I’m just excited for the opportunity.

“I hope I can play (Friday). Everybody has to get their physical done, and then I can play. ... But I don’t know yet.”

Withey has been allowed to watch all of the Pelicans’ minicamp sessions here, but now he’s ready to play.

“I’ve been able to watch a lot of practices, so I’m kind of picking things up,” he said. “I wish I could be on the floor. That way, I could have participated, I could have picked up stuff more. I’ve been around for a couple days now, and I’m starting to get the gist of it. It’s definitely tough, but it’s part of the business.”

Practice is one thing, but playing against the Knicks would be another.

“It’s probably going to be pretty rough for me,” Withey said. “I’m not in game shape. I haven’t been in practices or anything like that. Watching plays and trying to get them stuck in your head is a lot different than going out and actually having defense on you trying to do it. But if I am able to play, I’ll just go out there and play defense and do what I can do.”

Pelicans Summer League coach Bryan Gates said he was glad to have Withey watching practice since Monday, but he’ll be much happier once he’s cleared to play.

“You can see it in his eyes: He’s ready to go,” he said. “He sits down sometimes, then he stands up and he walks around; he walks over there. Then he comes over and sits down, gets a drink of water that he doesn’t need and then he sits down. Then he just kind of keeps walking around. ...

“From a coaching standpoint, we’ve got a young big. It’s going to be fun.”

Withey said New Orleans is the right fit for his skills, even though he first thought he’d be putting them to use in Portland.

“What I do is defend, block shots,” he said. “I think I’m a perfect fit for this franchise just because (coach Monty Williams) loves defense, and that’s what I’m all about. I take a lot of pride in what I do on the defensive end, and I love getting stops. I’m just going to go in and work hard and try to get stronger. ...

“I was shocked (about being traded). It was a quick introduction to the league. ... But I’m excited. I think New Orleans is a great city, and I think all the guys on the team are young — my age — so I’m really excited for it. I don’t think there could be a better fit.”