How Mitch Lightfoot put his handprint on KU's Elite Eight win without playing a second
Omaha, Neb. — Mitch Lightfoot didn't play a second in KU's 85-81 overtime win over Duke in the Elite Eight.
Still, it'd be hard to argue his handprints weren't all over that game, just in a different vessel.
Lightfoot, KU's first big off the bench for much of the season, knew his role might change when Silvio De Sousa joined the team at semester. He worked to get the freshman up to speed — earning the praise of coach Bill Self at times — even though he knew it might come at his own expense.
"Honestly, that's my entire goal here: KU gets better," Lightfoot said. "It might hurt my playing time, it might hurt my minutes, but it is what it is. KU is going to the Final Four."
Lightfoot, obviously, is not done playing a role for KU basketball.
While he only played two minutes in the second weekend of the tournament — Udoka Azubuike played 44 and De Sousa played 39 — the sophomore tabbed 41 minutes in the first two rounds and had several key performances to help the Jayhawks in Big 12 play.
KU’s roster in the 2017-18 regular season presented a unique opportunity to Lightfoot, allowing him to play more minutes than might have been the case on a team like, well, the one that will take the floor next season.
Should Azubuike return, Lightfoot could end up as the third, fourth or — by the end of the year — even fifth big on a talented KU roster. So far, though, he’s done nothing but keep his head up, both publicly and behind the scenes.
Lightfoot, a lifelong Jayhawk fan, tweeted “I love being a Jayhawk and that’s a fact” back in February. At the same time, he was doing his part to train his replacement — at least for a couple games.
“Just really proud of him,” Lightfoot said of De Sousa
Lightfoot, who has helped De Sousa acclimate to the team off the court, said he was happy to be a “mentor” or sorts for the freshman, teaching him “what it means to be a Jayhawk and how to be a student-athlete.”
The sophomore has also been vocal from the bench, chatting with his understudy during each stop in the action and trying to pass along valuable words of advice.
“It’s great. He’s done a great job of learning,“ Lightfoot said. “My hats off to him for how he’s been progressing. Think it’s only up from here, too."
For what it’s worth, the KU coaches have seen the same.
Earlier in the year, Self noted Lightfoot “wants to win more than he wants to play.” KU big men coach Norm Roberts, on the other hand, was quick to remark that things aren’t just moving in one direction when it comes to that camaraderie.
“There’s been times that Mitch has played really well for us and his biggest cheerleader is Silvio or Udoka," Roberts said. "And the same thing happens, like today, Udoka was the biggest cheerleader for Silvio. He was happy for Silvio and what was going on out there. That’s the way our team is.”
Lucky for the Jayhawks, they'll have all three — big men, cheerleaders, whatever — available as they head toward a showdown with Villanova.