Unhyped Mitch Lightfoot has time to grow and contribute at Kansas
Every year, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self brings in a new batch of recruits to add to the Jayhawks’ stockpile of talent. When he does, many of those freshman arrive in Lawrence with fans hoping the first-year college players will take on key roles in propelling KU to the Final Four.
Mitch Lightfoot isn’t one of those players. And that’s a good thing.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Gilbert, Ariz., isn’t a one-and-done like Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. or Josh Jackson. Unhyped, Lightfoot doesn’t have to step on campus with unrealistic expectations of becoming a game-changer before he has even, you know, played a college game.
Still, that shouldn’t temper fans’ excitement for Lightfoot. The hard-working, 219-pound forward will have a chance to develop season after season, and likely one day become a reliable veteran — perhaps even a special player. Having those types of four-year mainstays in a program is vital, too.
Freshman Mitch Lightfoot, trying to break into a front-court rotation that includes Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg Jr., Udoka Azubuike and Dwight Coleby, might not make much of an impact. But junior Mitch Lightfoot or senior Mitch Lightfoot? He could be the exact type of upperclassman every successful program needs on the floor and in the locker room. By then, he’ll know Self’s system and demands far better than the latest ultra-hyped one-and-dones to put on a Kansas uniform, and he’ll have the age and experience to help those young guys while also showcasing his own skills.
In the midst of scoring 32 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in the Ballislife All-American Game this past weekend, Lightfoot was asked to describe his game, and project how he might fit in at KU.
“I like to work hard. I’m doing everything I can for us to win — taking charges, getting rebounds, scoring if they need me to score,” Lightfoot said. “With us losing Jamari (Traylor) and Perry (Ellis) there’s opportunity there. I just have to work my butt off and take advantage of that.”
While certainly confident in his abilities, Lightfoot also seems very realistic about his limitations and what it will take for him to contribute in his first season in the program.
“I’m working on shooting and getting bigger,” Lightfoot said, adding he has been lifting weights six days a week. “I’m really working my butt off trying to get better and being able to shoot the rock.”
Back when Lightfoot committed to Kansas, in October, he looked too slim, and a few years away from making any kind of meaningful contributions at the next level.
Wise beyond his years, though, you can tell Lightfoot already has begun to address his bulk with his workouts, and he looks significantly stronger now than he did entering his senior year.
Playing at Gilbert Christian, Lightfoot (currently ranked 118th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals and 67th by ESPN) faced double- and triple-teams in high school. If he can earn minutes next season on a stacked Kansas team poised to win a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title and make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, he’ll enjoy a very different on-court experience, with defenses focused on shutting down the talented players around him. If Lightfoot is comfortable enough, he should be able to find open gaps for high-percentage shots and ease his way into the college game.
Regardless of whether Lightfoot plays regularly or sparingly as a freshman at Kansas, he appears to be the type of person who will remain committed to the difficult challenges that come with cracking Self’s rotation. So even if he is a few years away from being one of the first guys mentioned when you’re talking about the Jayhawks, just remember there is nothing wrong with that.
Playing for KU means a lot to Lightfoot, who was born in Kansas City. So even if it isn’t until 2018 or 2019, his time in the spotlight at Allen Fieldhouse should come eventually.