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Originally published January 31, 2017 at 05:00p.m., updated February 1, 2017 at 12:00a.m.

Senior forward Landen Lucas shouldering huge load for No. 3 Kansas

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) catches a pass inside against Texas Tech forward Matthew Temple (34) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) catches a pass inside against Texas Tech forward Matthew Temple (34) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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He’s coached him for five years, started him for part of three of those and seen him develop into an absolute rock on and off the court.

But it was not until Monday’s weekly Kansas basketball press conference that Kansas coach Bill Self revealed a bit of a nickname for senior forward Landen Lucas.

“He's like your binky or your security blanket,” Self said of KU’s 6-foot-10, 250-pound big man. “I mean, he's a guy that no matter how bad we want to (play someone else over him and) think, you know what, if we could just get somebody else, we haven't found anybody as good or better. He's been good. I mean, he's been really good.”

A starter for 48 career games, including 15 of 20 this season, Lucas’ role with the Jayhawks often has been easy to overlook. There’s nothing flashy about his game. His offense is slow and methodical and lacks the explosive element that lands on SportsCenter. And, defensively, even though his ability to wall up and alter shots has turned him into one of the best big-man defenders in the country, Lucas’ inability to consistently block shots into the fifth row also has kept him a little under the radar.

Self’s plans for Lucas to develop into a program player when he recruited him have been well documented and it’s possible that neither Self nor Lucas ever really saw him becoming the vital piece of the puzzle that he is today.

But that time has arrived. It’s going on two years now. And it will be as important as ever at Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night, when Lucas and the third-ranked Jayhawks play host to No. 2 Baylor at 8 p.m., with the winner moving into sole-possession of first place in the Big 12 Conference.

“Landen is a guy that, when we recruited him, we thought could be a rotation guy in time,” Self reiterated on Monday. “I talked to his dad, I talked to Landen (and said), we'll redshirt him freshman year, won't play him. Maybe by the time the end of his sophomore year he can be in the rotation. Well, by the end of his sophomore year, he was a starter, and then last year he wasn't a starter. We were looking kind of for something else, and what did we come back to? Landen. This year he was starting, and then we kind of went a different direction because we didn't think he was playing very well, and what did we come back to? Landen.

“I mean that with all sincerity and seriousness and in a complimentary way towards Landen, but when you coach at a place like Kansas or Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky, you're always thinking recruit these high, high-level guys, and you want to do that. But sometimes when you recruit high, high-level guys, people forget they've still got to beat out somebody that's damned good, that's been here and experienced and that kind of stuff.”

Lucas is that guy. And even though he operates with an even-keeled demeanor and is not the type of player who needs the extra pat on the back or super-sized headlines to do his job, Self said it was worth noting that Lucas has been one of the more under-appreciated Jayhawks to play in the Big 12 during recent years.

“I told our guys after the (Kentucky) game, I said, ‘You know what, if I tell you I'm proud of you, you'll mistake kindness for softness, so I'm not going to do it, OK?,’” Self began. “It's the same way with him. I probably don't tell him as much, but he's as appreciated as any kid that we've ever had here. He's smart. He's so good with (the media). He's intelligent. He has done everything we've asked him to do, even when the fan base may get onto him because he can't finish as well and all this stuff, but he just keeps coming back.”

On a team with a national-player-of-the-year candidate, in Frank Mason III, and potential freshman-of-the-year contender, in Josh Jackson, Lucas has emerged as arguably the most important player in a Kansas uniform.

A big part of the reason for that is KU’s lack of depth at the position he plays. But to leave it at that is to undersell Lucas’ importance. Kansas will need him big time tonight against Baylor, which brings 6-10 junior Johnathan Motley and 7-foot junior Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., among others, to Lawrence looking to use their size, athleticism and length to seize temporary control of the Big 12 race.

Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson and other Jayhawks no doubt will factor into the outcome. But because of Baylor’s strengths and KU’s lack of depth, it’s hard to make a case for any of them being as critical as Lucas.

And even though the identity and strengths of KU’s opponents will change the rest of the way, it’s hard to imagine the Jayhawks’ reliance on Lucas shifting much at all.

“Who would have ever thought we would have recruited a guy that everybody would say, ‘How are you going to win if Landen gets two fouls in the first half,’” said Self, incredulously. “That's how important he is to us. So that's about as complimentary as I can be towards anybody.”

Comments

Brett McCabe 4 years, 10 months ago

This is the second year in a row that Landen has come on strong as the season wore on. It's also the second year in a row that Landen started the season on the bench. It's a bit of a mystery to me.

However, you can't say enough about his contributions to the team - just when we needed it. We really need him tonight.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 10 months ago

Third year in a row. Recall the end of his red-shirt Soph year when Lucas was battling an injury and Self made a comment along the lines of "Who would have ever thought that Landon Lucas would become such a vital part of the team."

Joseph Bullock 4 years, 10 months ago

Hey Brett McCabe, wasn't Landen a started at the beginning of this season, but was not playing very good (and we ultimately found out he had multiple injuries, being the reason), but Udoka moved into the starting lineup! I'm pretty sure Landen was the starter, first!

Brett McCabe 4 years, 10 months ago

That is correct. Which highlights even more my point.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 10 months ago

Bottom line, as Coach says, he is a "gem" both on and off the court. Hope he gets a chance to show his talent either at the next level or in Europe. He deserves it. Then, when that is finished, there should be a spot for him at KU I hope. He would be a great mentor and role model.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 10 months ago

So true Harlan. He might be a big boon in recruiting big men to the team and developing the solid traits that Self values regarding defense.

Chad Smith 4 years, 10 months ago

Honestly i dont know who is our bigs specialist or front court coach since manning left. But landen would be a prime candidate to coach in that area in the future. Would be a great fit and teach our guys rebounding, effort and positioning. Those are 3 reasons he stays on the court.

Jay Scott 4 years, 10 months ago

Maybe Norm Roberts who works with Lucas deserves some credit?

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