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Tale of the Tait

KU’s Marcus Garrett says he’ll be good to go for Saturday’s Top 5 showdown vs. Baylor

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) looks to pass the ball around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) looks to pass the ball around Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) by Associated Press

For the second time this season, the status of an injured ankle belonging to Marcus Garrett was a hot topic heading into KU's next basketball game.

And for the second time this season, it does not appear that Garrett will miss any additional time.

"It's getting better," Garrett said Friday morning of the left ankle he rolled during Wednesday's win at Iowa State. "I'll be good for tomorrow."

Tomorrow, of course, brings the third-ranked Jayhawks' Top 5 showdown with No. 4 Baylor. And because of both the low-grade severity of the injury and the magnitude of KU's next game, Kansas coach Bill Self said he fully expected Garrett to play against Baylor when the Jayhawks and Bears tipoff at noon Saturday on CBS at Allen Fieldhouse.

Asked if he thought Garrett would be 100% for the Baylor game, Self was less sure.

"I don't know; I honestly don't," he said. "We didn't practice (Thursday). We just watched tape and (had a) walk-through. So, he didn't push it at all. But I can't imagine him not getting jacked up to play and adrenaline taking over."

That was not always the case. Garrett, who said he landed on a teammate's foot which caused the ankle to fold over in the win against the Cyclones, said he was initially much more worried about the severity of the injury.

"It felt more serious than what it really was," he said.

After missing roughly 8 minutes in the first half after being examined on the bench and back in the KU locker room, Garrett returned to the game late in the first half and then played the first 10 minutes of the second half. He moved well, running, jumping and cutting without issue and helped the Jayhawks cruise to their biggest win at Iowa State since 2003.

With around 10 minutes remaining and the game well in hand, Garrett asked out of the game and did not return.

"Yeah, it started doing some crazy stuff," he said Friday. "It started getting sore so I was just asking to come out."

As for how this latest injury — to the opposite ankle — compared to the ankle injury that kept him out of the second half of KU's loss to Villanova a few weeks ago, Garrett said the two were "very different."

"The feeling at Villanova was almost like I couldn't move," he said. "This game, it felt like that but once I started moving it loosened up."

Provided Self and Garrett are correct in their assessment of the junior guard's status for Saturday, expect to see KU's most experienced player and top defender in his usual spot in the starting lineup when the Bears and Jayhawks open play.

Reply 1 comment from Dale Rogers

Kansas coach Bill Self explains system of scoring home, road losses while tracking Big 12 race

Kansas head coach Bill Self looks for a push off from a West Virginia player during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self looks for a push off from a West Virginia player during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The standings show the Kansas Jayhawks at 1-0 in the Big 12 Conference race, with an early lead on five other Big 12 teams in the race to win this year’s Big 12 crown.

But that’s not quite the way KU coach Bill Self sees it.

The man who has made a career out of winning on other coaches’ home floors actually sees the Jayhawks sitting even after the first game of Big 12 play.

Let me explain, as Self did on Monday’s edition of “Hawk Talk” with Voice of the Jayhawks Brian Hanni.

The formula Self’s uses is simple. A home win is worth nothing and a home loss is worth negative-1. A road win is worth plus-1 and a road loss doesn’t hurt you.

So today, after knocking off West Virginia, 60-53 at Allen Fieldhouse last weekend, the Jayhawks are even because they won at home.

“To me, winning a home game is just breaking even,” Self said. “It’s not a bonus. It’s not anything. It’s just breaking even. If you lose a home game then it’s a big minus. And certainly winning a road game is a plus and losing a road game is breaking even at most places.”

The No. 3-ranked team in the country will have a chance to move to plus-1 in Self’s eyes on Wednesday night, when they take on Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, where they will look to get back to their winning ways away from home after a rough run in that department last season.

“(That’s) the best way to win a league,” Self said Monday night of winning on the road. “Our road record has been so good up until last year in league play. Just winning at home’s not enough. You’ve got to go .500 or better on the road.”

Had the Jayhawks done that a season ago, their NCAA-record streak of consecutive conference titles would be alive and well at 15 in a row.

“Instead we went 3-6,” Self reminded, making even a perfect 9-0 mark at home more or less irrelevant in the league race that Kansas lost by two games to Kansas State and Texas Tech.

“Home wins, (it’s) imperative that you get them,” Self said Monday. “But road wins are the ones that actually give you a chance to separate yourself. You’ve got to split on the road at worst, and then you’ve got to win them all at home. And if you don’t do that then you’ve got to steal one somewhere.”

Given the fact that the Jayhawks will be a road favorite on Wednesday night, winning in Ames would not be considered stealing one. But since KU still can go unbeaten at home this season, the Jayhawks are not quite in the position of needing to think about stealing anything yet.

Here’s a quick look at the Big 12 standings along with where each team sits according to Self’s system.

Baylor 1-0 – Even after home win vs. Texas

Kansas 1-0 – Even after home win vs. WVU

Oklahoma 1-0 – Even after home win vs. K-State

Texas Tech 1-0 – Even after home win vs. Oklahoma State

TCU – 1-0 – Even after home win vs. Iowa State

West Virginia 1-1 – Plus-1 after road loss at KU and road win at Oklahoma State

Texas 0-1 – Even after road loss at Baylor

Iowa State 0-1 – Even after road loss at TCU

Kansas State 0-1 – Even after road loss at Oklahoma

Oklahoma State 0-2 – Minus-1 after road loss at Texas Tech and home loss vs. WVU

So the only blood drawn in the race to date came from Monday’s road win by West Virginia at Oklahoma State. Every other team did what it was “supposed to do” and now we move onto Round 2.

No. 4 Baylor gets its chance to move into plus territory tonight with a road game at No. 22 Texas Tech.

And TCU will get the same chance in Manhattan against Kansas State.

It may be a bit early to start tracking this stuff, but wins away from home — and what Self often refers to as “holding serve” at home — are the way the Big 12 will be won.

Asked the annual question about what record he thought it might take to win the conference this time around, Self, at first, gave no answer and then settled in on a record that he seemed to think might do it.

“Oh, I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I think you could probably give it another 10 days or two weeks (and) probably get a feel for that. But 14-4 (in Big 12 play) right now, to me, looks like a very, very good record.”

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Kansas coach Bill Self reacts to latest San Antonio Spurs chatter

Kansas head coach Bill Self and some of the players get their laughs out before the team photo on Media Day, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self and some of the players get their laughs out before the team photo on Media Day, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Self on Thursday was asked about a recent comment made by ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg, who said on the air that he thought Self would end up leaving Kansas for San Antonio at the end of the 2019-20 season.

“My boldest prediction for 2020 is Bill Self to San Antonio,” Greenberg said during Wednesday’s appearance on ESPN’s "Get Up!"

Rumors of Self someday joining the Spurs are nothing new and have been a regular part of the KU basketball season for years.

But unlike previous reports of the Spurs being interested or Self being tied to San Antonio, this latest instance was merely one man’s prediction about what might happen.

Nonetheless, Self reacted to Greenberg’s take during Thursday’s press conference.

“Well first of all, I haven’t talked to Seth in five or six months,” Self began. "And secondly, and most importantly, I haven’t talked to (Spurs GM) R.C. (Buford) ever about (the job), and he was in my wedding and I was in his so I’ve known him pretty well and we’ve never once discussed it. And thirdly, I think it’s kind of an insult to the Spurs because they have the greatest coach maybe our sport’s potentially ever known — certainly the NBA — one of the two or three best of all time for sure. So, yeah, there was absolutely zero truth to that.”

Self went on to say that comments like those made by Greenberg “cracks me up.”

“What it was was ‘Bold predictions for 2020,’ so you just grab something or throw something against the wall and hope that something sticks,” Self said. “But, no, there’s zero truth to that. That’s not even one that would impact us positively, negatively. There’s nothing to it at all.”

Reply 4 comments from Dane Pratt Kenneth Johnson Forever2008 Armen Kurdian

KU freshman Jalen Wilson back at practice but still a couple of weeks out from a full return

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) puts up a three from the wing during the second half, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) puts up a three from the wing during the second half, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Out of the boot and off the scooter that aided his rehab from a broken left ankle suffered back in November, Kansas freshman Jalen Wilson has been on the practice court for the Jayhawks during the past few days.

But Self said the freshman from Denton, Texas, remains a couple of weeks away from being fully cleared for practice.

“He is participating in individual (drills), he’s on the court, moving about a snail’s pace, adding a little bit each and every day, and we’re hopeful — hopeful that within a two-week period he can be released and be full go. But we’re not at that point yet, where he can have contact at all.”

With a potential return nearing, Self said no decision had been made on whether to redshirt the 6-foot-8 wing or to try to work him into the rotation before the end of the season.

“We haven’t decided yet,” Self said, noting that he recently talked to both Wilson and his parents about his future plans. “I don’t think you make a decision on what you want to do with him until you see how his health is. If he’s not 100%, why would you even consider it? And if he is 100%, how does he fit in and does he have a chance to impact this team?”

Self said it was still too early to make any final decisions and added that Wilson was “on schedule” for a full recovery.

“I’m hopeful, and I know he’s hopeful that he can get to be 100%,” Self said.

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KU freshmen Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna riding wave of confidence heading into Big 12 play

Kansas guard Tristan Enaruna (13) drives against UMKC forward Javan White (25) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Tristan Enaruna (13) drives against UMKC forward Javan White (25) during the first half, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

With 12 games worth of lessons now in their memory banks, Kansas basketball freshmen Christian Braun and Tristan Enaruna have reached the first true checkpoint of their college careers.

The non-conference season is now a thing of the past — save for a date with Tennessee in late January during the Big 12/SEC Challenge — and it’s nothing but Big 12 Conference battles from this point forward.

Don’t think for a second that either player will be gun shy going into what the Jayhawks typically refer to as “the second season.”

“Definitely ready for that,” Enaruna said after KU’s 72-56 win at Stanford on Sunday. “It’s going to be exciting.”

The Jayhawks open Big 12 play at home against West Virginia at 3 p.m. on Saturday. And after spending the past eight weeks figuring out their roles and taking inventory on what works, what doesn’t and how the Jayhawks want and need them to play, Braun and Enaruna believe they’re prepared for the step up in intensity that’s just around the corner.

“I think we’re ready,” Enaruna said. “I think there’s a whole lot more to learn, but the main thing we took away from this non-conference (schedule) is just the experience and getting used to playing on these types of stages and just playing with the guys and being coached by coach.”

Enaruna stepped into the rotation first, flashing his defensive potential and easy-going offense during the first few weeks of the season.

But it’s Braun who appears to be riding the bigger wave at the moment.

Having put together three strong outings in a row in wins over Kansas City and Stanford and KU’s loss at Villanova, it’s the 6-foot-7 guard’s confidence that his coaches and teammates have noticed most in recent weeks.

“I’m excited about him,” KU coach Bill Self said of Braun. He still looks hesitant to me in some ways, but he didn’t look hesitant shooting the ball (against Stanford on Sunday).”

In 19 minutes against the Cardinal, Braun knocked in 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range and also showed off the tenacity and hustle that teammates and coaches have raved about since the summer.

But it wasn’t just the fact that Braun drained a career-high three triples against the Cardinal that mattered most. It also was when those shots came.

Two of them squashed Stanford runs and kept the momentum on KU’s side. And the third gave the Jayhawks an 18-point lead with 7:13 to play.

“I think I’m getting more comfortable each game,” Braun said after Sunday’s win. “And my teammates are helping me out, getting me more comfortable (and allowing me) to do what I normally do and what I’m used to doing.”

As a shooter and while crashing the offensive glass, cleaning up the defensive glass or hustling behind the play, Braun appeared more comfortable than ever and found his production from playing hard.

“That’s kind of what he does, what he’s good at,” Enaruna said. “Just playing hard, hustling, stealing extra possessions and being on the defensive glass a lot. I think he was really good. You know, you could really see his confidence today with a couple of shots he made, and that’s good to see. It’s good to see that he’s growing.”

When Braun plays with confidence, good things tend to happen. And when good things happen, his teammates make sure to feed that confidence.

“The biggest thing we tell him is that we need him to knock down shots, him and Isaiah (Moss),” junior guard Marcus Garrett said of Braun. “Those are our 3-point shooters and we have to show confidence in them for them to be able to make those shots. So every time they’re open, we tell them to shoot the ball.”

The two KU freshmen are comfortable with their place on this team right now. And both are playing with the most confidence they’ve had this season.

“I’m pretty positive on that,” Enaruna said with a smile.

Reply 2 comments from Robert  Brock Dirk Medema

Christian Braun’s latest step forward the most impressive yet for the KU freshman

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) whips a pass inside as he is trailed by UMKC forward Josiah Allick (20) and UMKC guard Franck Kamgain (11) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) whips a pass inside as he is trailed by UMKC forward Josiah Allick (20) and UMKC guard Franck Kamgain (11) during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Pressed into extended action because of an ankle injury to junior guard Marcus Garrett on Saturday against Villanova, Kansas freshman Christian Braun bobbled the ball on one second-half possession and didn’t blink.

The moment was the perfect illustration of the type of poise and confidence Braun displayed in helping Kansas nearly claim a hard-fought road win against the 18th-ranked Wildcats in front of a rocking crowd of more than 20,000 mostly Villanova supporters at Wells Fargo Center.

Instead of letting the temporary juggling act derail the set, Braun calmly collected the ball and turned to make a play.

He did a lot of that in this one. Far more than his final numbers — 6 points on 3-of-5 shooting to go along with two big rebounds and a late block — suggest.

And it was Braun’s aggressive and unflappable performance, in a hostile environment against a Top 20 team, that had Kansas coach Bill Self encouraged about the outing even if he was disappointed by the outcome.

“I thought he was good,” Self said of Braun, who followed up a season-high 21 minutes against Kansas City the weekend before with his best overall game in 16 minutes against the Wildcats. “I thought Tristan (Enaruna) did some good things, too. They competed hard.”

That they did. And they had to, or else the Jayhawks (9-2) might have been cooked much sooner than at the final buzzer.

With Villanova leading by 8 early in the second half and the home crowd roaring with approval, Self subbed both Braun and Enaruna into the game.

At that point, things could have gone one of two ways. Either the freshmen could’ve wilted in the moment and the Wildcats could have run away with an easy and much more convincing win or KU's rookies could have locked in and proved they belonged.

Both players chose the latter, but Braun did his with more fireworks.

Three times in about a two-minute span after staring down that 8-point deficit, Braun drove the ball hard to the rim and either scored or created a scoring opportunity for a teammate.

Later, with Kansas trying to close — without Garrett, no less — Braun caught a pass on the wing opposite the KU bench, took a few dribbles to his left and finished in traffic for the and-one opportunity that put KU up 55-51 with 1:49 to play.

You might’ve seen that one. Or at least the aftermath. Braun emerged from the gathering of bodies like a wild man, screaming profanities that inspired his mother to remind him to “(watch) your language, son” on Twitter and firing up his teammates with every syllable.

The only thing that took away from the moment was the missed free throw that followed. As it turned out, it was a big one, as it would’ve given the Jayhawks 56 points in a game they lost 56-55.

But those things happen. And as much as the miss — among other things — took away the Jayhawks’ opportunity to win that particular game, they did nothing to take away from the massive moment of growth and confidence Braun gained from performing so well on such a big stage.

To see just how far Braun has come in the first two months of the season, all you have to do is go back to the other time the Jayhawks played a game like this — Nov. 5 in New York City, when the freshman played just four minutes in his KU debut and had a line of one missed shot and two fouls to show for it.

That’s a pretty big jump in just over seven weeks. And that’s exactly why Self left Philadelphia saying his team “got better” even in a losing effort.

“This is an important game,” Self noted. “But (Villanova coach) Jay (Wright is) very hopeful that he plays in a lot more bigger games than this, and I’m very hopeful of the same thing. This would be a great game to win, obviously, for seeding purposes for both teams. But in the big scheme of things, I think our team benefited from playing this game. … There were some things about the game that were positive for us growing up, even though the outcome wasn’t great.”

Even though he was referencing his own team’s gains from playing a program like Kansas, Wright, after the victory, shared a simple theory he has that applies to Braun’s most recent outing.

“You learn lessons from playing the best teams,” Wright said.

If that’s true, the lesson Braun learned by playing Villanova last Saturday was that he most definitely belongs on the court with anybody and the Jayhawks, with or without Garrett, are going to need more from him moving forward.

The poise is there now. The polish will come.

None by FOX College Hoops

Reply 1 comment from Adam Bengtson

Self says Kansas guard Marcus Garrett ‘doing better’ after suffering ankle injury vs. Villanova

Kansas's Marcus Garrett (0) goes up for a shot against Villanova's Brandon Slater (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Kansas's Marcus Garrett (0) goes up for a shot against Villanova's Brandon Slater (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) by Associated Press

No x-ray was taken on the injured right ankle of Kansas junior Marcus Garrett, according to KU coach Bill Self.

In a text message to the Journal-World on Sunday evening, Self also said that Garrett was “doing better.”

Injured late in the first half of Saturday’s 56-55 loss to No. 18 Villanova, Garrett left the floor with around four minutes remaining in the half and did not return to the game.

He was on the bench throughout the second half and, as KU’s most experienced player, did his best to help his young teammates from his seat next to the KU coaching staff.

Like many of his teammates, Garrett traveled home for the holidays from Philadelphia, landing in Dallas sometime Saturday night.

He’ll be there through Christmas and will report back to Lawrence with the rest of the team by Dec. 26 to begin preparations for Sunday’s road game at Stanford.

Garrett missed five full games with a high ankle sprain to his left ankle during Big 12 Conference play last season. Even after returning he never played at 100% the rest of the season.

There was enough optimism around the program Saturday night to suggest that his latest injury will not take Garrett down the same path this season.

Self said Saturday he did not believe the injury was “going to be something that drags out to conference play.”

Garrett is currently averaging 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 28 minutes per game in 11 starts this season. He ranks second on the team with 19 steals and is shooting 48% from the floor and 37% from 3-point range.

The Jayhawks will travel to Stanford next weekend for a 2 p.m. clash with Jerod Haase’s club on Sunday at Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus.

That game is slated to be televised by ABC.

Reply 6 comments from Mike Kendall Dane Pratt Barry Weiss Armen Kurdian Thomas Harrison Surrealku

High school-heavy 2020 recruiting class the latest reason to be intrigued by the future of Kansas football

Kansas head coach Les Miles walks off the field after a timeout during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Les Miles walks off the field after a timeout during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The two most important letters on the list of the 18 December signees announced by the Kansas football program on Wednesday were the H and S sandwiched next to each other to the far right of each new Jayhawk’s name.

The letters stand for “High School,” of course, and the fact that every player signed by Les Miles in the 2020 recruiting class to date is from the high school ranks represents a significant shift in philosophy from what Kansas fans have seen for the past decade.

Consider it choosing development and big picture over panic and temptation. And consider it the perfect move for a program at the early stages of its latest rebuild.

For years, KU fans have heard numerous head coaches talk about wanting to sign and develop high school prospects only to see them audible in the months ahead to fill their recruiting classes with a mixture of more-mature junior college prospects and players from the prep ranks.

Don’t get me wrong; some of the junior college prospects that KU has brought to town have panned out and gone on to become key contributors.

The complete list from the past decade of those types of juco home runs is too long to list, but one of the most recent is current wideout Andrew Parchment, who started at Northern Illinois and came to KU in the class of 2019 after one year at Iowa Central Community College. All he did last season was lead the Jayhawks in receiving yards (831) and receptions (65).

But it’s important that coaches walk down that path only when absolutely necessary and not as the foundation for the future of their program.

“It depends on how severe the need is,” Miles explained Wednesday when asked if it was hard to lay off of the juco prospects. “If there’s a guy that fits you specifically, maybe a quarterback, maybe a wide receiver some, some real specific skill that you have to have and you don’t have on your team, we understand. But we’re not building that way. And that doesn’t appeal to us. What appeals to us is the opportunity for (players) to come on campus, improve, take steps, take time. (In) two years, he’s probably played at least a piece of one of those two, and now he’s got two solid years left to play. That is, to me, the recipe for success here.”

With Steven Sims Jr., and Jeremiah Booker both graduating after the 2018 season, Kansas was in need of playmakers at the wide receiver position. Parchment not only fit the bill as a prospect but also backed it up as a player.

However, for every Parchment that KU has found throughout the years, there have been two or three junior college gambles that either did not stick around or, perhaps worse, failed to impact the product on the field, eating up valuable scholarships in the process.

It’s OK to miss on one or two juco or transfer prospects here and there. But when large chunks of your recruiting classes are made up of those types of players, the risk and potential long-term damage is just too high.

Miles, who signed mostly high school prospects during his time at LSU, understood that long ago and appears to be determined to follow a similar plan at Kansas.

All but three players in his first recruiting class at KU (2019) were high school prospects, and north of 90% of the players signed by Miles to come to Kansas thus far have been high school seniors.

That’s a terrific ratio and that number, more than the speculation over which of Wednesday’s signees might pan out, is the real reason for fans to be excited about the future of Kansas football.

With 18 players in the 2020 class signed and six other high school seniors committed to KU but waiting until February to sign, Miles and the Jayhawks are looking at the real possibility of having a class almost completely full of high school prospects.

With that as the foundation, the KU coaching staff now has options for what it can do with the few spots left to fill.

After talking to offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon on Wednesday, it’s clear that there are certain positions at which KU would take a player no matter where he’s enrolled in school today. Quarterback, offensive tackle, elite pass rusher and lockdown cornerback are those positions.

And even if KU were to add one of each of those from the juco or transfer markets in the months ahead, the 2020 class still would grade out well even if none of the non-high school prospects panned out.

There’s no doubt that you have to have talent and you have to get lucky a few times along the way. But building blocks is the name of the game. And Kansas football has more young ones today than it has in years.

KU Football's juco or transfer signees per class in the past 10 years

2019 - 3

2018 - 11

2017 - 10

2016 - 7

2015 - 7

2014 - 11

2013 - 16

2012 - 15

2011 - 1

2010 - 1

Reply 8 comments from Brjam Dane Pratt Dirk Medema Brett McCabe Greg Ledom Michael Maris

KU women’s basketball team delivers holiday cheer, KU gear to Lawrence Memorial Hospital

The KU women's basketball team huddles in the lobby of Lawrence Memorial Hospital for a holiday photo before bringing gear and cheer to LMH patients on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.

The KU women's basketball team huddles in the lobby of Lawrence Memorial Hospital for a holiday photo before bringing gear and cheer to LMH patients on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. by Matt Tait

Their 9-0 start has brought plenty of joy to Kansas basketball fans at Allen Fieldhouse so far this season, but on Wednesday morning the KU women’s basketball team was handing out smiles in a new setting.

Roughly twelve hours after the men’s team left Walmart following its annual holiday shopping outing, the Kansas women’s basketball team made its annual trek to Lawrence Memorial Hospital on Wednesday morning to visit patients, hand out gear and spread some holiday cheer.

According to KU Assistant Athletic Director for Trademark Licensing, Paul Vander Tuig, who started the hospital visit tradition 27 years ago, roughly 85-90 companies donated items for the Jayhawks to give away to patients this year.

The Kansas players and coaching staff split into groups to tackle as many floors and wings as possible, giving away four full carts of KU clothing, posters, ornaments and other memorabilia to LMH patients.

“It’s the holidays and it’s just a really great time of the year,” freshman guard Chandler Prater said between visits on Wednesday. “I love kids so I was happy to stay in the baby station all day, but it’s just really awesome to see the mothers and their babies and put some smiles on peoples’ faces.”

KU coach Brandon Schneider, who has been a part of the tradition for the past five years, said Wednesday that his teams always have looked forward to these types of holiday outings.

“None of us like hospitals,” Schneider said. “But our players do a terrific job with this every year. To be able to bring some joy and light to those who are ill or injured I think helps our players understand the importance of servanthood and giving back and is really valuable.”

KU’s women’s team, which is off to a 9-0 start, received one vote in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, marking the first time this season that the Jayhawks had factored into the voting.

Schneider’s squad will travel to St. Louis for a 1 p.m. clash on Sunday before returning home to close out non-conference play on Dec. 30 against Wofford at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot making the most of redshirt season

Kansas redshirt forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a dunk by Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas redshirt forward Mitch Lightfoot celebrates a dunk by Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Ten games into redshirting his fourth season at Kansas because of his desire to find a greater role in the future, KU forward Lightfoot has remained a key part of the Kansas basketball program.

In addition to providing leadership, encouragement and tidbits of advice to his younger teammates, Lightfoot suits up with the red squad during practices and tries his best to prepare his teammates for the next opponent.

“It’s been good,” the KU senior said of the first 10 games of his redshirt season before Tuesday’s holiday shopping outing at Walmart in Lawrence. “I’ve been grinding, getting better. I’m playing my best ball right now, so I’m just excited for the rest of this year, excited to see how the guys perform and excited to be a part of this team.”

Called by coaches the type of player who would have a Jayhawk fly out of his chest if you cut him open, Lightfoot admits that game nights have been the toughest part of embracing his new role.

Almost always the first Jayhawk onto the floor for pregame shoot-around throughout his career, Lightfoot still holds that distinction. This season, however, that marks the only time that he’s in uniform.

“That sucks,” he said. “Going out there and seeing all them go out there and get ready to play and then you’re changing into street clothes in the locker room, it sucks. But at the same time it’s going to be worth it. These guys are doing a great job right now so I’m pretty proud of them.”

Despite not logging any minutes, Lightfoot has found a way to make the most of the season so far. In some ways, he said his decision to redshirt the 2019-20 season, thus preserving his final year of eligibility for the 2020-21 campaign, has allowed him to reach a new level of understanding about the game he loves.

“It’s nice to be able to take a step back and really go over the scouting report,” he said. “I go over scouting report more now than I felt like I did even when I was playing just because I get to learn from the guys I’m playing in practice and show them how to guard (their opponents) and how they play and things like that. I’m giving it my all and hopefully that helps them.”

After considering the move during each of the past two offseasons, Lightfoot finally made the decision to redshirt just before the start of the 2019-20 season. The biggest reason was the presence of three bigger bodies in the KU front court in Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack.

At the time of his decision, many believed that Kansas would spend most of the season playing with two big men on the floor. And while that has been true for chunks of each game — including at the opening tip in all 10 thus far — KU coach Bill Self has elected to play small a lot more than people expected, limiting the opportunities for KU’s big men to impact the game.

De Sousa and McCormack are both averaging fewer than 17 minutes per game and De Sousa has played single-digit minutes in half of KU’s games to date.

With those figures providing a strong case that Lightfoot made a sound decision, the senior from Gilbert, Ariz., who has played in 95 career games with the Jayhawks said this week that he was comfortable with his decision and making the most of whatever opportunities he does get to help his team.

“Honestly, it’s about what I thought it would be,” he said. “I’ve got a little experience so I try to give them some tips and pointers and they all do a great job. I’m really proud to be a part of this team.”

Lightfoot has been on the bench for every game, traveled to Maui with the team in November and will be there on Saturday, in Philadelphia, when the top-ranked Jayhawks (9-1) take on No. 18 Villanova (8-2) at Wells Fargo Arena.

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