When Todd Withers is asked where he played college basketball, and he replies “Queens,” it’s common for him to have to clarify that’s the college in Charlotte, not the borough in New York City.
Withers, a 6-8 guard-forward, led Queens to the Division II Final Four in March. Then, he spent time at the IMG Academy training for a shot at professional basketball somewhere.
Monday’s workout with the Charlotte Hornets was his fourth with an NBA team, following auditions with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets. So his invitation from the Hornets was more than a courtesy to a kid from a local school.
He did chuckle after the workout when asked if he has to explain what and where Queens University is.
“A lot of people get it mixed up with Queens in New York,” where St. John’s campus is, Withers said. “I say ‘Nah, I went to Queens in Charlotte’…Then I say, ‘D-II’ and they say, “D-II?!’
Typically, at that point, Wither is asked why he didn’t transfer, to which he replies, “Queens is really good. We can compete with a lot of D-I teams.
“Then I get out there and they say, ‘Yeah, I can see it.’”
Withers, who grew up in Greensboro, averaged 13.6 points and eight rebounds last season. He was a strong shooter, making 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the college 3-point line.
Asked where he’d fit on an NBA roster, Withers mentions Houston Rockets swingman Trevor Ariza for Ariza’s defensive versatility and 3-point shooting. Withers said he’s looking to demonstrate in workouts he can create offense off the dribble, something Queens didn’t ask of him.
The chance to train at IMG was important as far as smoothing the transition from Division II star to viable pro prospect, alongside players from college programs dramatically more selective in their recruiting.
“Definitely it got me ready for workouts like this when I’m going against way bigger, more athletic, way faster guards and bigs,” Withers described. “It got my body adjusted to handle stuff: Me having to gain weight and putting the right (foods) into my body as far as nutrients.”
Withers had to convince himself he belonged.
“I go into IMG and I see all those coaches in there. In my mind, they’re all in there for somebody else,” Withers said. “The more I got comfortable, the more I thought someone will (notice) me and see how hard I’m working.”
It’s not unprecedented for players from lesser-known schools to make it in the NBA. Scottie Pippen went from Central Arkansas to multiple championships with the Chicago Bulls and the Hall of Fame. Gastonia’s Darrell Armstrong played 14 NBA seasons out of Fayetteville State.
Withers is OK with all that. He seems to enjoy it.
“I know there were guys I worked out with before who don’t even know what school I went to or who I am,” Withers said.
“Try to go under the radar to where when people see me they say, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen this before.’”