After playing sparingly in two exhibition victories, Kansas senior Mitch Lightfoot has decided to redshirt the 2019-20 season.
“Mitch and I visited on Friday and he’s 100% on board with redshirting this year,” KU coach Bill Self said Saturday at halftime of the KU-K-State football game. “This was Mitch’s idea and I totally support it and believe it’s in everyone’s best interest.”
Lightfoot, a 6-foot-8 forward from Gilbert, Ariz., has appeared in 97 games for the Jayhawks during his first three seasons in Lawrence. But with three healthy big men ahead of him in the rotation, the opportunity for playing time during the upcoming season appears to be limited.
After talking with Lightfoot and his family, Self and his reserve forward agreed that sitting out the season and preserving his final year of eligibility for the 2020-21 campaign, when more playing time is likely to be available, was the best move for Lightfoot’s future.
“I feel a little bit differently about this one than maybe some,” Self said recently. “Because if we were just trying to have the best team and prepare for the worst, if somebody got hurt or something this season, then we’d play Mitch. But I love having him around so much that I think he deserves an opportunity to have a chance to start. And his best opportunity would be next year. Not saying it will happen, but it would be next year, when probably some of these guys are no longer around.”
With Udoka Azubuike healthy, Silvio De Sousa eligible and David McCormack improving as fast as anyone on the roster, the already-crowded Kansas front court could become even more difficult to crack if Self elects to play small ball for large chunks of the season.
With three long and strong freshmen having the potential to play the 4 spot and junior Marcus Garrett already experienced in that position as well, the trio of Azubuike, De Sousa and McCormack could find themselves rotating at the 5 at times, with KU playing lineups with just one true big man.
That’s not to say Lightfoot couldn’t play. But the opportunity for meaningful minutes just might not be there.
“I do think he’s improving at a rate that I think he will really be a good player whenever we decide to end his eligibility,” Self said of Lightfoot, who coaches have said loves KU as much as any player they’ve ever had come through the program. “He’s actually played really well and would deserve an opportunity to play minutes, there’s no question.”
True to his team-first nature, Lightfoot figures to continue to play an important role on this year’s team, even if the plan is for him to not record a single statistic. He still will practice with the team, providing a savvy and experienced presence on the scout team for those other big men to battle with, and he will bring his energy and cult hero persona to the bench on game nights, home and away.
“Mitch will do whatever’s best for the program,” Self said Saturday. “We’re all excited about the season and Mitch will play a huge role in our success because he’s actually a big guy who’ll be on the (scout team) that now guys have to guard away from the basket. That’ll be good practice for him, to develop his game, and certainly it’ll be good for us, too.”
Lightfoot, who is set to graduate in December with a degree in economics, is now in line to get started on a three-semester Masters program. Self believes the future is as bright as can be for Lightfoot, both as a KU basketball player and beyond.
“Well, he’s a great teammate first and foremost and he’s a high-energy guy,” Self said recently on “Hawk Talk,” when assessing the Lightfoot situation. “The way I would look at things, if you’e looking at intangibles or qualities to hire, I’d want somebody that would pump energy into an environment and not suck the energy out, and Mitch is an energy giver. Regardless of what’s going on, he’s ridiculously positive, he’s very coachable and he’s an others-first guy.
“Those are qualities that I think would make any business or team or program better. I don’t think you can ever have enough of that. So he’ll do well for whatever he wants to do. But I think he’s going to have a chance to go play and make some money for a while as long as he stays healthy.”
Before then, he’ll get to experience life as a Kansas basketball player in two very different ways for two more seasons.