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.
“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.”