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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Full speed ahead: KU forward Mitch Lightfoot laying the foundation for a bigger role

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot

Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot

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With Landen Lucas gone from the Kansas basketball roster, sophomore-to-be Mitch Lightfoot is poised to step into the role of Kansas big man who has played the most games in a Jayhawk uniform.

While that may be hard to believe from a program long known for stacking its front court with serious stars, injuries, graduation, transfers (in and out) and a roster loaded with talent in the backcourt for a second consecutive season have left Lightfoot and his 26 games played as by far the Jayhawks’ most frequently used front court player.

While those 26 appearances produced just a total of 102 minutes (3.9 minutes per game), Lightfoot has spent the weeks since the end of the 2016-17 season rigorously pursuing improvement in all aspects of his game to ensure that both his numbers and his impact go up drastically during his second season in Lawrence.

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Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) gets up for a rebound over West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad (23) and West Virginia forward Lamont West (15) during the first half, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Every step you take you’ve gotta find a new gear,” Lightfoot told the Journal-World during a recent phone interview from Arizona. “And I feel like I’ve done it this summer. It’s going to be a big summer when I get back, but I’ve already brought a new level of intensity because I feel like there’s going to be a new level of expectation put on me. I’m not a freshman any more and I can’t have freshman mistakes.”

It’s safe to say that not too many freshmen have done in the past couple of weeks what Lightfoot has done at his home back in Arizona.

Armed with instructions from strength coach Andrea Hudy and suggestions from KU coach Bill Self, Lightfoot has reached that new gear through help from his father, his high school coach, his personal trainer and his own inner drive to succeed.

His days begin at 6:45 a.m., when the alarm sounds and his father, Matt, greets him with a protein-packed smoothie to jump-start the body-shaping transformation process.

From there, Lightfoot, listed at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds throughout his freshman season, gears up and heads to the kitchen to eat breakfast.

His goal, beyond the basketball-specific stuff, is to hit a playing weight of at least 223 pounds by the time the 2017-18 season rolls around. In order to do that, he has to eat. A lot.

“Oh yeah. You can workout all you want, but if you’re not putting the right fuel in your body, it’s not going to get you anywhere,” he said. “And for me, the big thing is the amount of fuel I put in my body because I have to eat tons and tons of food if I want to put on a little bit of weight.”

After breakfast, Lightfoot heads to his high school gym, where he works on the gun to get up a variety of medium-range to deep jumpers for 60-75 minutes. Because school still has been in session, he’s had to be out of there by first bell, which gives him the opportunity to head back home for a little rest, recovery and a nap.

“Shooting the ball better has been a big focus of mine,” he said. “Coach just talked about how if I could stretch the floor, that could mean more minutes for me and would improve our chances of getting a good look every time we come down.”

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Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) puts a shot over Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Included in his spring sessions has been some film study, lots of conversations about the game with friends and family members, and, of course, more work. After school lets out, Lightfoot heads back to the gym to go through a skills workout with his high school coach.

While getting bigger and stronger and working on his outside shot have been major points of emphasis, Lightfoot has done it all with the careful consideration of maintaining his ability to move around, run the floor and match up with different players on both ends of the court.

“I’m trying to get to around 223-225 (pounds) by next season,” he said. “But the coaches haven’t really put a number on it. They just told me to get stronger. And in order to do that, I’m gonna have to be a little bit heavier, but I don’t want to lose my athleticism.”

Around 8 p.m., after the skills workout and a couple more meals, Lightfoot hits the weight room, where he finishes his day by hitting it hard with his personal trainer. Everything is on the table during these sessions, from lifting for bulk and working agility to cardio and endurance drills. Each time Lightfoot strives to reach that “new gear,” striving to improve on the previous day’s performance in at least one or two critical areas.

Although it’s been a couple of weeks since he has seen him, Self has monitored Lightfoot’s progress, both throughout April and during his time back home. And the KU coach has liked what he’s seen and heard about his young forward.

“Mitch has had a good spring,” Self told the Journal-World. “And certainly, he’s a guy that we’ve got to be able to get substantial minutes out of next season. He’s athletic enough, big enough and talented enough to make a significant impact for our team.”

He won’t be asked to do it alone. And if things go well, he won’t even be the most important Kansas big man on the roster. Freshman 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who missed all but 11 games with a wrist injury last season, has the potential for a breakout year and could be a difference-maker for the Jayhawks down low. Add to that the arrival of newcomers Billy Preston, a five-star, incoming freshman, and Jack Whitman, a graduate transfer from William & Mary, and it’s clear that Lightfoot has both help and competition up front.

“We’re going to need Udoka, Billy, Mitch and Jack to all play big for us and give us good minutes,” Self said. “Because I anticipate us playing two bigs a lot more of the time.”

With that in mind, Lightfoot knows that the potential for meaningful minutes is within his reach. Sure, he checked into the Indiana game in Honolulu to kick off last season and the Duke game at Madison Square Garden a few days later. And, yeah, he was on the floor for four minutes at Kentucky, for eight more at the end of KU’s wild, comeback win over West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse and for three of the four NCAA Tournament games in which the Jayhawks played. But the only time he saw his minutes crack double digits was a 14-minute outing against UMKC in December at home.

If things go well and all of the work he has put in this spring and summer pay off the way he thinks it will, the 2017-18 season could bring with it a complete flip, with Lightfoot playing double-digit minutes in all but one game instead of the other way around.

“I’m really excited because I feel like this is going to be a big year for me,” said Lightfoot, who, like the rest of the team, will report to campus by Saturday in time to start working the first Bill Self basketball camps. “There’ll be a big jump in responsibilities and I have to be more of a presence on our team and I feel like I can do that. I’ve just been trying to focus on what the coaches told me to do and doing that to the best of my ability.”

Comments

Suzi Marshall 1 year ago

I don't know about Lightfoot. He shook up any small bit of hope I had for him at the end of the season when he went out to block that 3 point shot in a 4 point game with seconds to go on the clock. That was a remarkably dumb play....

Chris DeWeese 1 year ago

He was a freshman. Even Josh made some bone headed plays occasionally. Freshmen...smh.

Scott Oswalt 1 year ago

You're going to judge him on one play? Give the kid a chance. He will be a program player. He was only a freshman and needs time to develop. Mitch has the athletic ability to succeed.


It's quite alright if you don't comment on every article posted, btw.

Dirk Medema 1 year ago

I hope he improves a lot, but I doubt there are many double digit minute games this coming year. The year after - absolutely, but next year he is likely to be the 4th big, and that doesn't usually result in double digit minutes for most of the games.

I'm expecting Dok & Preston to start at the 5 & 4 with Whitman subbing in behind both.

Glen Miller 1 year ago

Whitman is coming from a small school and wasn't on our roster last season. Lightfoot is more athletic, was recruited by Self, has a year in our system and was only a freshman last year. I believe that Mr. Lightfoot will get every opportunity under the sun to get his minutes and should he be as good or better than Whitman, my money would be on Lightfoot getting more minutes. Hard to project who will be better when there isn't much to go off of just yet.

Aaron McCullough 1 year ago

Bill Self seems to think he is just as athletic as Lightfoot, if not more so: “The best part of his game is his explosiveness,” Self said. “He can play above the rim, has good feet, and can score over both shoulders inside."

Glen Miller 1 year ago

I hear what you are saying..... but how many other guys has Self brought in that he has said that about. He's not going to dog out a player he brings to KU. We shall see what transpires. I hope both play and play well!

Dirk Medema 1 year ago

Everybody gets a chance the first month of the season, maybe 2, but not so much once conference starts. It's usually 1 big and 2 perimeter players subbing for the starters.

Whitman was at a smaller school, so not Big12 competition on a regular basis, but he has played against that level and produced. Even at a small school though, in 3 years he probably has more experience against P5 competition.

And both were recruited by Coach Self.

Brett McCabe 1 year ago

Har to predict playing time but easy to see when a guy has the right mental attitude to get himself in the mix. We'll see a big step up from Mitch this year.

Jim Stauffer 1 year ago

I actually disagree with the assessment of most on Lightfoot. While he got lost on defense some last year and had some disappointing moments, he displayed much more athleticism than I realized he had. Particularly he has an excellent knack of being near the ball on rebounds, mostly on instinct and has great timing on blocking shots. If, indeed, he comes back stronger, I can see him being a real beast on the boards. It is clear his scoring will just be gravy with the lineup focusing scoring from the backcourt and Dok. I think Lightfoot may well exceed Whitman due to his pure ability and his hustle may prove to bring him very close to Preston's capability.

Robert Brock 1 year ago

I love this kid's enthusiasm. I think he has skills and ability - but he is just presently not strong enough to make a big contribution as in PT.

His work ethic may propel him into substantial minutes and possibly a starting spot in 2018-2019.

John Brazelton 1 year ago

Lightfoot is probably never going to be a first-class star player at KU, but if he improves every year, he can become a program player like Lucas, who can then help the team in areas that are his strengths.

Jeff Coffman 1 year ago

I think Bill Self likes to play freshman and then red shirt them after they realize what they need to work on. I like Lightfoot to follow the five year plan like Lucas. The value of Lightfoot is in 2019-2021...not as much in 2017-2018. I do think he can score.

Glen Miller 1 year ago

If he redshirts...... it will be after his sophomore season. Not enough depth on the front line and we've already got transfer big men sitting the season out. We'd only be 3 deep in the front court if he redshirted.

Chris DeWeese 1 year ago

Agreed. Lightfoot is going to play quite a bit this year (assuming he continues to grow and progress as a player).

Joseph Bullock 1 year ago

As long as Lightfoot does not lose any speed or quickness, after he gains weight, and gets stronger, he will see significant minutes! If Coach Self goes back to his beloved double post, Mitch with get plenty of minutes, as him and Whitman will be the 2nd set fon 'bigs', playing together, on a regular basis-and Coach Self will also experiment with different combinations!

Dirk Medema 1 year ago

If Coach Self goes back to his traditional approach, there will be 1 big subbing in and 2 guards for the 3 perimeter spots for an eight man rotation. Traditionally, he only goes beyond 8 due to fouls, injuries, or those bonehead games. Roy used the platoon system, but not Self.

Chris DeWeese 1 year ago

I think Lightfoot will continue to develop as a great shot blocker, among other things. He's got athleticism, a motor, and a great attitude. You can tell he's committing himself to becoming an all around better player (diet, strength, technical skill, etc.). The leap from freshman to sophomore is usually quite a leap (except for certain players with the initials CB). I think we're going to see a lot more from Mitch.

Harlan Hobbs 1 year ago

Mitch is a winner. He has the attitude and character that any team should want.

I agree that his minutes this coming year might be limited unless we have some injury problems, but it won't be due to a lack of desire. In the long run, he will be a significant part of the program.

Rickey Pauler 1 year ago

I think Mitch is going to surprise some naysayers this fall (and next spring).

Barry Weiss 1 year ago

Truly a 4 year Jayhawk. Would like to see him gain even more than they want, but I'm sure his quickness would suffer. 13 pounds this summer and maybe another 13 next would get him to where he could maybe beat and bang in the paint. Thats what we need.

Humpy Helsel 1 year ago

Mitch, stick with the award winning Andrea Hudy. Stick close. This is a 4, or maybe 5, year program guy. We need them.

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