University of North Carolina at Charlotte forward Curtis Withers is one of America's top college basketball players and is a returning senior for the 49ers. The graduate of West Charlotte High School was a First Team All-CUSA selection a year ago and a presesaon selection to the Wooden Award Watch List this fall. The 49ers, who went 21-8 overall and 12-2 in conference play a season ago, will open the 2005-2006 campaign against Coppin State at the BCA Classic in Laramie, Wyoming. (photo courtesy atlantic10.org)
CURTIS WITHERS, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA-CHARLOTTE
SCS.com: You are a Charlotte native, a graduate of West Charlotte High School. As a senior, you averaged a double-double and were named the MVP of the 2002 North Carolina East-West All-Star Game. You were ranked as one of the nation's top 100 recruits by ESPN.com, Athlon, Prep Stars, and others. When it came time to choose a college, what other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately decide to stay at home and become a 49er?
Withers: "I had Alabama, Southern California, Clemson, Florida State, and of course Charlotte as my five choices, and when I came for my visit to Charlotte, I saw what Rodney White was able to do as well as how Coach Lutz's system was run and how I could fit in the same way Rodney did. Charlotte was also the best fit for me because I was at home and close to my son."
SCS.com: You stepped right in and made a huge contribution as a true freshman for the 49ers. You were CUSA's leading freshman rebounder, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, and earned CUSA All-Freshman Team honors. Talk about the differences between high school basketball and big-time college basketball, and tell us why you believe you were able to make an immediate impact in a conference as tough as CUSA.
Withers: "Strength, size and skill were the diferences between college and high school. In college, there is equal talent as well as better talent. You have to learn how to play in a system, and I think that I made the impact that I did at Charlotte because I was able to adapt and fit in with the rest of the talent on the Charlotte team as well as compete with the talent on other teams."
SCS.com: You continued to improve your sophomore season, earning First Team All-CUSA honors as well as Third Team All-American honors. You led the conference in double-doubles that season and scored 20 or more points nine times. Last season you averaged 18 points per game and were again named First Team All-CUSA. What do you feel is the key to your success? Is it the work you do in the offseason, how you prepare for each game, your focus during the game itself, or something totally different?
Withers: "I would say the key to my sucess was me dedicating my offseason and preseason to the weight room, and playing in a couple of pro-ams in the summer helped a whole lot. It helps a whole lot when you are stronger than the guy that you are guarding as well as the player guarding you. You have to be able to blend in with your team and play within your coaches' concept as well. Preperation for the game would be studying personnel of the opposing team, getting a good warm-up, and playing hard every possession."
SCS.com: You have also earned national recognition throughout the past few seasons. You were named to the Wooden Award Watch List, a ranking of the top fifty players in the entire country, prior to last season and then again this fall. Dick Vitale of ESPN.com also chose you to his Preseason Third Team All-America in August. What does the national recognition mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Withers: "To my school, it's well-deserved recognition, and my teammates look at me to be more of a leader every year on and off the court."
SCS.com: You had the opportunity to play for the USA Basketball team in 2004. That squad went 5-0 and won the gold medal at the tournament in Halifax, Canada. You started each of the team's games and scored 17 points in the gold medal game. This past August, you had the opportunity to play for the USA Basketball U21 World Championship Team in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Talk about having the chance to represent your country in foreign nations and the pride you must feel when wearing the red, white, and blue. Also discuss the 2004 team that brought home a gold medal.
Withers: "Playing for the USA Team made me apreciate where I was from, as well as how united the U.S. is. Both summers, twelve of the best players in the country could unite as one team in three weeks and act and play as if we had been together for years. The team of 2004's success is self explanatory: we won the gold medal, and four of the players on the team were drafted."
SCS.com: The 49ers were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March but are primed for another run to the NCAA Tournament this season. This is the team's first year in the Atlantic 10, and with you, E.J. Drayton, Mitchell Baldwin, Leemire Goldwire, and others all returning, the 49ers should be one of the favorites to win the league title. Talk about the change from CUSA to A-10 basketball, and also talk about a few of the things you have worked in improving during the offseason.
Withers: "CUSA was a strong conference with power houses like Cincinnatti, Louisville, and Memphis, but the A-10 is just as good I think, just not the same recognition and TV time is given. With Charlotte having the experience of playing against schools in CUSA, we should be well prepared for the A-10. This offseason I have worked on ball handling, extending my range beyong the three, being consistent with making shots, and most of all, getting stronger because you never are too strong."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Bobby Lutz, is a Charlotte graduate and a North Carolina native. He has led the team to three conference titles and has recruited some of the country's best talent to play for the 49ers. Talk about playing for Coach Lutz. What makes him so successful, both on the court and on the recruiting trail?
Withers: "Coach Lutz is a perfectionist and competes in everything he does. He doesn't like, nor accept, losing, and he gives maximum effort in everything he does, which grows on his players that play for his team."
SCS.com: You are in a unique situation in that you have a young son named Jae'lyn. In addition to going to school and playing basketball, you obviously have to make a large amount of time for him. Talk about the challenge of juggling all of these various responsibilities in your life.
Withers: "That's the biggest thing he has helped me with, being responsible and prioritizing things in my life. A lot of extracurricular things that the normal athlete or college student would be doing, I wouldn't and couldn't do. He is also my focal point and keeps me focused. He helps me be a good role model and set good examples which go along with being a role model as a college athlete as well."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Withers: "The thing is that college athletes don't have time to work due to them playing sports and representing the campus, so I think some kind of stipend should be distributed. Every athlete doesn't go pro. If college students could be paid, then they would stay in college for four years purposely. I think a lot of athletes leave for the pro's because of money and wanting to provide for their family in a sufficient way. If athletes are so dependent on making it pro, then athletes should be able to just play sports, the same as pro's do. There is no comparison between a college athlete and a pro."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the court and one person you admire off the court?
Withers: "On the court, I look up to God, and off the court, my son is my role model because he is a mirror of me, my other half. Some people say he is my twin."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful basketball player, what advice would you give him?
Withers: "Hard work always pays off in any category, and take advantage of every opportunity. It starts in the classroom, then on the court. You can do anything if you put your mind to it."
SCS.com would again like to thank Charlotte's Curtis Withers for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the 49ers the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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