Landen Lucas, who started 19 of Kansas’ final 20 games — a stretch in which KU went 18-2, took control of the Big 12 race and marched to the NCAA Elite Eight — was rewarded for his contributions with a selection on Sports Illustrated’s “All-Glue” team at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
“It was cool. It’s a nice honor. I guess that’s a form of being a team player,” Lucas said, “doing whatever it takes to help the team win. It’s a nice sign because it means you are helping the team and are a part of this team’s success.”
SI wasn’t the only outlet to recognize the importance of the rebounding machine to KU’s team.
Lucas, a 6-foot-10 Portland, Ore., native, received honorable mention on the Big 12 coaches’ all-league team after leading the Jayhawks with 6.8 rebounds per game and averaging 5.8 points off a team-leading 64.3 shooting percentage.
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“It was cool to be recognized, something that sticks with you,” Lucas said. “Really at the end of the day I’m more happy about our team’s success and wins than anything.”
KU coach Bill Self praised Lucas at the conclusion of KU’s 33-5 campaign.
“Obviously Landen and Devonté (Graham) are two of the most improved players in the country over the last year,” Self said. “Landen can defend his position. He can rebound his position.”
Lucas, of course would love to improve his offensive production in 2016-17 while remaining a force on the boards and on defense. As a junior, he hit 74 of 115 shots from the field, 64.3 percent, and 59 of 89 free throws, 66.3 percent.
He showed flashes of offensive excellence, scoring 14 points against Maryland and 16 versus Austin Peay in the NCAA Tournament. He also had a 14-point outing against Oklahoma State and 13 versus Chaminade during the regular season.
“He has to take another step,” Self said. “I’d like to see him become a better offensive player, a better scorer. He has to refine his offensive game. He’ll work hard on that. That would be the next step … to become a more consistent scorer, I’d think.”
Lucas hit the gym this summer with offensive improvement in mind.
“Finishing inside off angles, trying to get off as many shots as I can, mid-range to 15-footers,” he said of offseason workouts. “We’ve got guys like Carlton (Bragg) who can knock down those shots. It can open up the floor a lot. I know I’m capable of doing it. In high school, it was something I was very comfortable with. Getting more comfortable with it again is something I’m focusing on.”
Lucas worked with former KU All-American Wayne Simien in the summer.
“Being able to pick his brain about different moves and countermoves really puts your mind at ease when you are out there instead of you overthinking things to do,” Lucas said.
“Wayne has so many tips and tricks. If I can scratch the surface of what he was able to do it can really help my game.”
Lucas does not plan on forgetting about rebounding.
He had a season-high 16 boards versus West Virginia and 12 against Chaminade, Connecticut and Villanova.
“It’s something I enjoy doing,” said Lucas, who also had 27 blocked shots (second on the team) and 92 fouls (most on the team). “You can never rebound too much.”
And you can never win too much, he said.
“I want to leave my senior year knowing there was nothing more I could have done to help prepare our team and help prepare the guys to get ready to go, put ourselves in the best position to win,” Lucas said.
“I feel we learned a lot last year. We had the right mindset going into the postseason, going into each game. I want to make sure this year finishes with no doubts or what-ifs in my mind.”
Lucas is thrilled that he has gone from a player who struggled to make the rotation to an almost-certain starter.
“You come here to be part of something big. I think this last year I was able to contribute a little big more to that,” Lucas said. “I’m happy I’m here and doing it at a place like Kansas.”
He has advice for KU’s newcomers.
“Just take it all in. Everything is going to come at you real fast,” Lucas said. “To enjoy the process. Work on getting better and enjoy it all.”