Mitch Lightfoot’s love of basketball and desire to emerge as a productive college basketball player surfaced during a summertime conversation with the freshman forward out of Gilbert Christian High in Arizona.
Asked what he thought of McCarthy Hall, Kansas’ modern, new apartment complex for KU basketball players (and some other students on campus), Lightfoot, for instance, did not mention the spacious living quarters, movie theatre and/or lounges on each floor.
He actually brought up something designed to make him a better point producer.
“It is amazing, especially to have a (half) court in the dorm. Now there’s no excuse to not be an 80 percent free-throw shooter,” the 6-foot-8 Lightfoot said, dreaming of all the hours he can spend working on his free-throw form during his spare time the next four years.
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“Everything is right there. Everyone being in the same dorm is nice,” he added, salivating at the thought of pick-up games day and night.
Lightfoot arrives at KU with the reputation as not only somebody with physical skills — he averaged 22.6 points and 11.9 rebounds a game his senior season — but strong intangibles.
“He has a nasty streak and is unbelievably competitive,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I think he’ll be one of the steals (of the 2016 recruiting class). I think he will impact our program like a Darnell (Jackson) over time or Jamari (Traylor), Mario Little over time. He will grow into it.”
Lightfoot’s intangibles showed last spring at the Ballislife All-America game in Long Beach, Calif. The official website write-up of his 32-point performance referred to Lightfoot as a “rugged and serious-minded player.”
He impressed with a no-nonsense attitude the week of the game.
“We had practice two days before the game. Those were basically pick-up (games),” Lightfoot said. “Afterward, I initiated some competitive drills — two dribbles, face-up from the top of the key, things like that.”
Yes, believe it or not, Lightfoot organized drills in an otherwise low-key all-star environment.
“The pick-up was fun and all, but I really wanted to do something where I was going to get better by being out there. I felt those were some fun drills that helped me get better,” he said.
Lightfoot scored 27 points in the second half in the all-star contest, many off breakaway slams.
“He may be as athletic as any cat we’ve got in our program,” Self said. “I think he will be the surprise of our recruiting class without question.”
Lightfoot showed his competitive nature this summer, going up high to try to block fellow freshman Josh Jackson’s layup try in a Self campers game in Horejsi Center. Lightfoot appeared to block the dunk try but did bump Jackson, who went down hard and took a few seconds to get up.
Jackson was not injured.
“I’m going to play hard all the time. Things happen,” Lightfoot said.
Asked where he acquired his athleticism, Lightfoot said: “My dad (Matt) was a high jumper in college. He went to Baker (University) right down the road. My mom (Rhonda) played volleyball and basketball at Rockhurst.”
Lightfoot moved from the Kansas City area to Arizona when he was 6.
“I was born here, lived here five years then moved to the Tucson area where I lived 12 years. It’s amazing coming back to this place where you can go from fan to player. It’s awesome,” Lightfoot said.
“All the kids at coach’s camp … you know how exciting it is for them because you’ve been in their shoes before. You know how exciting, how daunting it is to get an autograph from a player or talk to them.
“Now I’m a player. I’m loving it here, loving all the guys. Everyone here has been very accepting. I’m on track for a good year.”
One thing Lightfoot has decided to ignore as he enters college is his ranking.
He has entered college as ESPN’s No. 67-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2016 and Rivals.com’s No. 108-rated performer.
“Honestly, rankings come from people who know stuff about basketball, they do know stuff,” Lightfoot said. “(But) that doesn’t define me. I define myself. I figure out what I’m going to do and put my mind to it and no one is going to stop me.”
“I get a kick out of recruiting services. A lot of times it’s not where you start but where you finish. We’ve had guys not highly ranked end up lottery picks. We think he has a great future and our fans will enjoy him,” Self stated.
Likely for a full four years.
“I’m living a dream,” Lightfoot said. “I got my foot in the door. Once my foot is in the door anything is possible. I’m going to work my butt off.”