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An appreciation of all things Landen Lucas

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Kansas forward Landen Lucas pulls away an offensive rebound from West Virginia forward Elijah Macon (45) and guard Tarik Phillip during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas pulls away an offensive rebound from West Virginia forward Elijah Macon (45) and guard Tarik Phillip during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

So this is what it took for the legion of Kansas basketball fans who had spent most of the 2015-16 season — and, really, the past couple of years — trashing every move that Landen Lucas made and begging Bill Self to keep him off the floor and out of the lineup?

Sounds about right. A 16-rebound, 4-block, 9-point performance in arguably the biggest game of the season to date has a way of quickly changing minds.

Of course, even with Lucas’ monster night against West Virginia — and don’t sell him short by calling it anything else; Lucas absolutely dominated portions of Tuesday’s 10-point victory — there were still those out there who called his game garbage and said he was lucky. Those sentiments came mostly from the Twitter trolls, so a quick “consider the source” disclaimer would be a good thing to throw in here. But, still. Why do people have such a hard time giving Lucas credit when credit is deserved?

Just this morning, as I was driving to work, I heard a sports talk radio host discrediting Lucas’ big night by saying he picked up most of those 16 “easy” rebounds because the opposing team was so focused on Perry Ellis, who finished with just one rebound. Offensively, I’ll give you that. Ellis attracts so much attention from opposing defenses that it often leaves teammates wide open for easy shots, some they miss and some they make.

But I’m not buying that when it comes to rebounding. For one, Ellis is not and has never been anything close to a force on the boards, so, usually, one man doing his job of properly boxing Ellis out is sufficient. It’s not as if two and three bodies immediately go lean on Ellis when a shot goes up, leaving Lucas all alone to wait for the ball to fall into his hands. Not even close.

Lucas grabbed some big time boards last night, against a physical team that bumps and shoves every time the ball is in the air. He was a manchild. And he nearly matched the rebounding total of WVU’s entire starting five by himself.

KU loses that game without Lucas. Maybe by a lot.

So it’s time to at least start giving the man the courtesy of not trashing him for his limitations and celebrating him for the things he does well.

And I’m not just talking rebounding here. I’m also not talking offense, either. He still has a long way to go in that department before he can be considered a real threat, but the best part is he knows that. And he doesn’t care. It’s not like this is a guy unaware of who he is who chucks up 15 shots a game when he should probably be taking far less than half that number.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Lucas’ performance on Tuesday night was how well he kept his cool when teammates and opponents around him were on the verge of melting down in a physical, highly competitive game that meant a ton to both teams.

The Jayhawks come together during a break from action in the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks come together during a break from action in the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The best example of this came after Devonte’ Graham was called for a foul on a play where Graham clearly did not believe he did anything wrong. With Graham jumping up and down and the pain of officiating injustice splashed across his face, Lucas calmly walked up to his teammate and said, “Hey, keep your composure.” He said it twice for emphasis and then let Graham handle the rest.

Those are the types of things people don’t always see. Or, if they do, don’t always choose to recognize. And those are the reasons, among others, Self is so comfortable playing Lucas big minutes.

He’s a great teammate, a selfless competitor and a guy who would do anything to help KU get a victory.

It just so happens that more often than not, doing the dirty work of grabbing rebounds, setting screens and making life easier for others is what Lucas is best equipped to contribute.

But what’s wrong with that?

Get this: In the 22 games he has played this season, Lucas has failed to grab an offensive rebound in just three of them. And the biggest reason for that was a lack of opportunity. His average minutes played in those three games (Oregon State, Baylor and at TCU) was 9.

Other than that, Lucas, who is arguably KU’s best rebounder, has snagged at least one offensive rebound in 19 other games, grabbing multiple offensive boards in nearly half of those.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been hard on Lucas — and Self’s insistence on using him — throughout his career. So, yeah, can you go back and find things I’ve written that say Lucas can’t play? You bet.

But I’ve been over that for weeks now, largely because, for weeks, it has been crystal clear that Lucas is improving and working his butt off to get what he can when he’s out there.

This team needs a guy like that. Heck, this team needs several guys like that.

There still will be games this season when Lucas plays 10 minutes and doesn’t do much. Self has made it clear that the rotation at the 5 is almost entirely dependent upon match-ups. And Lucas is not able to match-up with the quicker post players in college basketball.

That’s just the reality of it.

Want to know what else is reality? Lucas earns everything he gets out there and almost none of it comes easy.

Remember that when you look back at his 9-16-4 line from last night. If you do, you’ll better recognize why he was the story of the game, why it’s accurate to say he dominated portions of the game and why it’s fair to say KU would’ve lost without him.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up to defend against a shot from West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) gets up to defend against a shot from West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Comments

Austin Gray 5 years, 11 months ago

The biggest difference, for me, between Lucas in weeks prior and Lucas last night was his shot-blocking. That he had only 5 blocked shots going into last night is inexcusable from the 5 spot. If he's turned a new leaf and added the skill to his limited repertoire, he'll deserve everything he gets. I still don't think, though, that essentially playing 4-on-5 offensively makes up for the 1-2 offensive rebounds he gets a game. Last night's dunks were nice enough, but he still puts the ball on the ground too much.

Kent Noble 5 years, 11 months ago

I agree Austin he puts the ball on the floor way to much especailly when he's right under the basket. I'm not taking anything away from his performance last night that was Awesome! It would be nice if he played like that more consistanly. If Landen plays like he did last night Saturady that may be are ticket to victory. I'm not counting on Wayne Selden. Other than that Kentucky game Wayne just doesn't have that Buddy Hield killer instinct.

Dirk Medema 5 years, 11 months ago

It's a shame that Landon doesn't get credited with an assist when he sets a screen and clears out a path to the lane for the other 4. That way you could at least read of his contribution to the team. You apparently miss all the non-statistical work that he provides. That's a shame, because that is a huge chunk of BB; good team BB. I hear they have an AAU tourney some place that you could go watch.

Austin Gray 5 years, 11 months ago

They should track his moving-screens, too.

Dale Rogers 5 years, 11 months ago

I've been on this earth for a lot of years, probably more than most of the posters here. I've noticed that most of those who trash someone else are simply compensating for their own inadequacies. Instead of enhancing their own strengths and working to improve their weaknesses they prefer to bask in the "glory" of pointing out the mistakes and weaknesses of others.

It's far easier to ignore that kind of person since they have nothing of value to say. But it makes them feel better to try to bring someone else down to their own level, they're not likely to stop.

Lucas was The Man last night. Without his performance our home win streak would likely have come to an end, as noted in the article.

Good job, Landen Lucas! Well done!

This post is not aimed at anyone in particular, just a comment in general.

Danny Hernandez 5 years, 11 months ago

Matt,

Thank You for writing this article and kudos to Landen, A well deserved Thank You for busting your butt last night. Loved the killer instinct last night

Matt Dimeo 5 years, 11 months ago

So true. Give the kid some props. In my mind, he's been the most consistent player out there(except for perry). The harsh critics out there don't know basketball very well.

Andy Tweedy 5 years, 11 months ago

I defended Lucas a week or two ago and met with counterpoint from posters that he just couldn't contribute on offense. There seems to be an expectation that every player to put on a Kansas uniform should be perfect. Clearly, that's never going to be the case. Lucas is a nice player, and just because he's never going to be an All-American, doesn't mean he sucks. Bravo to Lucas...great game!!!

Otavio Silva 5 years, 11 months ago

As soon as Huntet is in full power, we will be ready to take the Big 12th title!

Joe Ross 5 years, 11 months ago

I read this article twice just to be sure that the feeling I took away after the first read resonated in the second. It did.

Every word of this article is right on the mark.

The one thing I think that needs to be seen now is consistency. As a "program guy" there is no reason we should night witness this effort every single time he takes the floor. He's been here long enough, and this season is not young. By this point in the season, we need the guys who are going to bring it to step to the fore. Postseason hopes and the conference title depend squarely upon it.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 11 months ago

Remember, Landen will be back next year, along with our big Micky D center, our redshirt Jamaican and, hopefully Bragg and Diallo. We will have more muscle along the front line for sure. Add in Greene, Svi, Frank, Devonte plus Vick and Lightfoot and maybe Josh Jackson and look out!!

What I saw from Landen that I liked was he got offensixe rebounds near the basket but immediately recognized it would be a tough shot for him so he dished it out for a start over.

Janet Olin 5 years, 11 months ago

Congrats, Landon , for a stellar performance last night. You always bust your butt on defense and have good footing under the basket; you get lots of great rebounds. The blocks made a huge difference, as did your free throws and stick-backs. Keep improving. Your calm demeanor/leadership helped keep tempers in check last night in view of several bad calls. We fans appreciate your efforts. Rock Chalk On!!

Dennis Privat 5 years, 11 months ago

Matt !.. Very disappointed that you listen to KC sports talk radio...you are much smarter than those KU hating ratings whores.....Katzman..Bowel....I and others thrive on KU fans listeners and unfortunately it works.....DON'T LISTEN !!! I quit and now am a happy content KU fan !

Jerry Walker 5 years, 11 months ago

I'd add Twitter...one of the most useless, factless info sources on the web. Really, how can you take seriously someone who "Twitters" and "Tweets"?

Jay Scott 5 years, 11 months ago

Jerry. Twitter is awesome. It's the best place to get rapid fire info. Major corporations, media outlets etc all use twitter for press releases. It can be a spectacular tool. If you follow a bunch of individuals with nothing useful to say, it is pretty stupid.

Dirk Medema 5 years, 11 months ago

It's sort of funny to hear people talk about Landon's calm demeanor keeping tempers in check. The reality is he's a sneaky boy, poker faced instigator. Remember the last game when he got the T for standing over the opponent smiling innocently with his hands raised. He pulled one along those lines with WVU. Had virtually the entire team whining to the ref prior to shooting a FT. He's like a massive, fluffy teddy bear - with a wire just barely and virtually invisibly sticking out of the soft cuddly fur. jab. jab. jab.

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