Ever since the shooting disaster that was the 2022-23 season, Hubert Davis has been searching for a pretty specific type of player. As a team, the Tar Heels had guys with size and guys that could shoot, but rarely both at the same time. The next guy we’re talking about carries arguably the best combination of the two since, dare I say, Brady Manek: Jae’Lyn Withers.
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Last season, Withers averaged 25 minutes per game for a Louisville team that finished the season a putrid 4-28. On one hand, the Cardinals struggled to remain competitive in most games and as a result, Withers recorded very few truly meaningful minutes, making it difficult to adequately assess his play. On the other hand, Withers managed to provide solid production with decent efficiency while surrounded by teammates that weren’t exactly elevating his play. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how he transitions to playing with this Carolina team.
Withers is actually in the same recruiting class (2019) as Armando Bacot. He redshirted as a freshman and has spent the past three seasons playing for the Cardinals. Last year, Withers averaged 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 43.3% from the field, 41.7% from three, and 73.5% from the free throw line.
Withers’ best year statistically actually came during the 2020-2021 campaign where he was named to the ACC All-Freshman team. He averaged 10.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and shot 38.1% from beyond the arc. His numbers suffered the following year mostly due to the multiple injuries he dealt with. Though Withers was just 23.4% from three that season, it’s clear that he can be serviceable from the perimeter when healthy.
Out of all the newcomers this season, Withers is perhaps the most intriguing because of how much versatility he could provide. At 6’9, 220 pounds, he has above-average athleticism and solid length. When Withers plays with purpose, he can take dudes off the dribble and possesses the body control and touch to finish effectively around the basket. If he can pair that with a consistent outside jumper, Withers would add another dangerous element to a Carolina offense that already has proven threats.
The biggest knock on Withers is his carelessness with the ball. On a Louisville squad that became notorious for coughing the ball up last season, he led everyone with 2.2 turnovers per game with just 0.8 assists to go with it. Withers’ ball-handling can be a bit shaky and he has a tendency to dribble into the wrong situations. Although he likely won’t be expected to put the ball on the floor quite as much, he still needs to work on his ball skills and decision-making. The opportunity for minutes is there for Withers, but it will quickly dwindle if he’s unable to take care of the rock.
Defensively, Withers has struggled with consistency. From a physical standpoint, he should be an ideal defender but the effort seems to come and go. Of course, it’s a little hard to evaluate defensive effort for a team that won four games and was often collectively checked out. Still, Withers could stand to improve his speed and overall focus on that side of the ball. Hopefully, playing with guys who are together and locked in will create chances for Withers to create some havoc.
Altogether, Withers should prove to be a very valuable addition for the Tar Heels. As a veteran with plenty of experience in the ACC, he is hungry to win at the highest level. The decision by Elliot Cadeau to reclassify gives the team a legitimate play-maker and a guy that should make Withers’ life much easier. His length could be especially useful given the size deficiency resulting from a Cadeau/RJ Davis backcourt. He’ll mostly play the four, but Withers is someone who could feasibly play positions 3-5. It’s unclear whether he’ll ultimately be a starter, but as it stands now, a frontcourt of Bacot and Withers sounds like a pretty nice compliment to the aforementioned guards.