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Monday, June 17, 2019

To redshirt or not to redshirt? Kansas senior Mitch Lightfoot not worried about that question

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) vie for a loose ball during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot (44) vie for a loose ball during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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KU forward Mitch Lightfoot is back for his final run with Kansas basketball, and, for the second year in a row, questions have surfaced about whether Lightfoot might redshirt the upcoming season.

“It’s something we can think about,” said Lightfoot on Monday, his eyes conveying a sense of deja vu to similar questions he heard at this time last year. “But at this point in time I haven’t really.”

Loaded with size and depth up front for the second consecutive summer, one of KU’s primary strengths heading into the 2019-20 season appears to be its big men.

But that was the case a year ago, as well, and then Udoka Azubuike injured his wrist nine games in and Silvio De Sousa served a season-long NCAA suspension.

Azubuike and De Sousa are both back this season. And with sophomore David McCormack transforming into what Kansas coach Bill Self described Monday as “the most improved guy on our team, hands down,” the question of how many minutes will be available for a fourth big in KU’s rotation suddenly becomes a logical one.

photo

Nick Krug

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa defends against a three from Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot during a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I was thinking about it the other day,” Lightfoot said. “I was looking around and (thought), ‘Hey, dang, all the big guys; it’s the same group that I worked out with last year.’ It’s kind of cool to actually have everyone on the court, healthy. And I think (with) everybody together it’ll be pretty special.”

Lightfoot’s grit, competitive nature and willingness to sacrifice life and limb for the good of the team has endeared him to both KU fans and the Kansas coaching staff alike.

To that end, Lightfoot acknowledged — just as he did a season ago — that redshirting the 2019-20 season and sticking around KU for two more seasons, instead of just one, would not be the worst thing to ever happen to him.

“I mean, yeah, I would,” he said when asked directly if he would consider redshirting this season. “But that’s a decision we haven’t made yet.”

Added Self, when asked about the prospects of anyone on his 2019-20 roster redshirting: “Possibly, yeah. I don’t know though. Nobody has to sit out. So I don’t know what we’ll do, if anything, with that.”

Regardless of what role awaits in Lawrence, Lightfoot enters the summer energized by his recent trip of a lifetime.

In late May, the KU senior traveled to Israel to play a handful of games with an Athletes in Action team which former KU great Wayne Simien served as an assistant coach.

Lightfoot, who wore No. 8 and was accompanied by his younger brother, Miles, a freshman-to-be at Army, said there was more to the experience than working on his game.

“For us, it was more spiritual than it was the basketball side of it,” Lightfoot said. “Getting to further my faith and connect stories to actual places was pretty cool.”

Lightfoot’s group, which included former Eudora High and current Creighton standout Mitchell Ballock, toured Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane and other historic and sacred sites in and around Jerusalem.

“Wayne reached out to me about it and we did our research and decided that would be kind of cool,” Lightfoot said. “It was kind of me and my brother’s last time playing together on the same team, I got to play with good players and got to experience a different kind of basketball. It was something special.”

While nothing about KU’s 2019-20 rotation is anywhere close to solidified today, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Lightfoot, who played 399 minutes as a junior and 531 minutes as a sophomore, — both second among big men on those rosters — has been KU’s fourth big man before.

That came during his freshman season, when he played 102 minutes and was behind Landen Lucas (895), Carlton Bragg Jr. (429) and Dwight Coleby (134). But it’s been five seasons since the fourth Jayhawk in KU’s big man rotation played more than 134 minutes. And spreading that kind of playing time out over a 30- to 40-game season, does not generate very many quality minutes for the players a little further down the bench.

No matter how things play out in the next few months, Lightfoot vows to operate the same way KU fans have come to love during the past three years. Toughness, a never-back-done mindset and team-first approach will drive him. And, in the meantime, Lightfoot, the senior, will do his best to guide his teammates.

“It’s crazy,” he said of his place at the top of KU’s eligibility totem pole. “I thought I just got here. But it’s been a cool experience. Being a senior is something special. You get to give some knowledge off to the younger guys (and) I think we have a good combination of vets and young guys.”

Comments

Dirk Medema 4 months, 3 weeks ago

The description of Mitch’s game makes it seems so unproductive. While he doesn’t have any plays run for him, so his points are mostly what he generates cleaning up after the others, I seem to recall that he had one of the better block % rates. Even if there aren’t a lot of minutes, there are generally times when the 4th big is indispensable. Thinking Cole in ‘08 vs UNC.

That being said it would be cool to have him back next year when we could easily be without the other 3 or any other returning big.

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Crazy thing about Mitch is even though he's always been undersized, has only played 3 years, and has never played "starter minutes", he's top 10 in blocks under Bill Self. I think that really helps to illustrate that he's an elite shot blocker trapped in a small forward's body.

Eliott Reeder 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I am insulted on Mitch's behalf that this article was even written, and that any senior player would ever be asked if they think they are a good redshirt candidate. What in the world??? Maybe we should redshirt YOU for the year, Matt Tait. Benton Smith and Shane Jackson are taller, have better mid-range jumpers, and were more highly rated by 247 out of high school, so we'll just dismiss all the year's of hard work, travel, and effort you have put in at the LJW up to this point and let them take your minutes, how's that???

Craig Carson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Lightfoot redshirting actually isn't a bad idea...this is set to be his final year in college..with the front court players they have this season he might barely see the floor..why ask him to be relegated to the bench for mop up duty in his final year? His chances of playing ate much better in the 2020 season

Eliott Reeder 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I understand the logic behind the suggestion, I just don't like the idea for several reasons. First of all, given the injury history of Azubuike, it is not at all out of the realm of possibility that he will spend time rehabbing an injury at some point during the season. Second, how many players have redshirted in order to 'play more minutes the next year' just to be recruited over once again? Many. If De Sousa leaves for NBA next year, and AZ graduates, then we are in prime position to recruit another five-star PF and/or C, and there goes Mitch's supposed future minutes. Mitch, as much as I love him, will never be a major impact player at Kansas, and that's okay. What he can do is play that 4th big-man, weak-side block beast, energy-guy off the bench role like Dirk mentioned above that Cole Aldrich played as a freshman, getting back to that perfect 4-man big rotation that got us a title in '08. Lastly, what happens on Senior Night if Mitch redshirts???

Matt Tait 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Sorry you were so insulted by this, but I can assure you that Mitch was not. He expected the question, heard it a ton last year, too, and is open to the idea of it if that's what's best for the team and for him.

It's not a matter of analyzing the man's worth, it's a matter of maximizing his opportunity to play. And if KU is so loaded that he's only going to get 5-10 minutes a game this season — or maybe less — but could stick around another year at a place he loves and possibly play more like 15-20 minutes a game next season, it's hardly a punishment.

Here's the thing about redshirting, which should be crystal clear given what went down with Ochai Agbaji last year: It can be the plan going in, but it's never set in stone. That means, if injuries pop up and the need for depth becomes an issue, Lightfoot, or any other player, could quickly hop into the rotation without hesitation.

Again, nothing is planned as of now and Lightfoot is proceeding with the idea of playing and contributing this year. He was merely asked yesterday if he would be open to the idea of redshirting and, oh by the way, he said yes.

Whether he plays a ton or plays a little, sits out to redshirt or finds some kind of role, it will not affect Lightfoot's enthusiasm and passion to be the best teammate possible.

As for your question about Senior Night, if he redshirts — again, IF — he would do his Senior Night ceremony in 2021. KU still will have Azubuike and Moss as seniors to honor at the end of this season.

Eliott Reeder 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Matt! Always fun to engage with you LJW writers in the comment section, and just so you know, I wasn't REALLY insulted, I was just teasing! All good points above, except I'm disappointed you didn't insist that your mid-range jumper is in fact, far more "wet" than Benton or Shane's. Either way, I just hope the best for Mitch. I don't remember a senior ever redshirting anywhere, though I am sure it has happened somewhere out there!

Robert Robinson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm kind of back and forth. I'd hate to see Mitch sit on the bench most of his senior year, but it'd sure be nice to have him if we needed him. At the same time, who's to say Mitch isn't playing better come game time than some of the other guys. I'd love to have him back next year too though. Eliott mentioned with AZ leaving and possibly De Sousa leaving we'd be primed to pick up a couple 5 star bigs, but I'm still waiting on the NCAA hammer. It's going to be tough to recruit good players if we they take away a scholarship or two or slap us with a post season ban

Kit Duncan 4 months, 3 weeks ago

If Mitch is expected to play limited or no minutes, it would make sense for him to redshirt. Just as Ochai's redshirt was taken off when he was desperately needed, the same could be done with Mitch should Azubuike, McCormack or DeSousa be injured at some point during the season. Mitch would still be practicing with the non-starters just as he has for the last three years, which means he would be just as prepared to step in should the need arise.

The difference between Mitch redshirting or playing the bench is likely only a few minutes per game, and probably some nights not even playing. He most likely will see the most minutes playing clean up in blowout games.

Don't get me wrong, I love Mitch Lightfoot's game! He often brings a spark to the team when subbed in. I just believe that if Udoka, David and Silvio remain healthy, they will get the lion's share of minutes at center, while Mitch mostly warms the bench. Redshirting him wouldn't be the worst thing to happen.

Mike Greer 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Like the others have stated, I love Mitch and only wish him the best, but he's never going to be a serious impact player at KU. And it's not like redshirting is going to alter his NBA draft status. For a few extra minutes I guess I don't understand why he would redshirt. But that's actually on me, there may be a good reason, it's just beyond my level of understanding.

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