Mitch Lightfoot was known as somewhat of an enforcer his senior year at Gilbert (Ariz.) Christian High School.
“That was my thing. I averaged almost four blocks a game,” Lightfoot, Kansas’ 6-foot-8, 210-pound sophomore forward said of his ability to reject and alter shots in the paint — a talent that’s again become part of his game in his second season at KU.
Lightfoot — he had 11 blocks last season in 26 games — has 20 blocks through 12 games for the Jayhawks. After Thursday’s 75-54 victory over Stanford, a game in which he had one block, he ranked fourth in the Big 12 Conference in total rejections. Texas’ Mohamed Bamba led the league with 41 blocks.
“It’s all about timing, being in the right place at the right time,” Lightfoot said. He had four blocks against both Texas Southern and South Dakota State and two versus Arizona State and Tennessee State this season.
He blocked one shot in the Jayhawks’ most recent outing, Thursday’s 75-54 win over Stanford in Sacramento, Calif.
“You have to know when to come over and help and when not to. There’s a very fine line you play when you are blocking shots,” Lightfoot said. “You have to block out your man you are helping off of because if you try to block too many shots your man will get an easy tip-in. It’s hard for our guards to block out a big guy.”
Lightfoot says the coaches encourage him to play freely and go after shots.
“The coaches do talk to me and ’Doke (Udoka Azubuike) about blocking shots you can block, don’t block ones you can’t,” said Lightfoot, who also has contributed 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds a game for the Jayhawks, who take a 10-2 record into a short Christmas break.
“It sounds really simple but has some truth behind it. If guards shoot a fall-away 8-footer you will not get to it. It’s a hard shot to make. More often than not that ball will come off the rim and you can get a rebound.”
Lightfoot is just happy coach Bill Self “trusts me to help my teammates and go block some shots in the game.” He said he has picked up technique tips from Self and big man coach Norm Roberts.
“Coach Roberts says stay on the ground until the person jumps to shoot then go get it,” Lightfoot said. “I can get in trouble if I jump before the shot, get some silly fouls doing that. Stay on your feet until it’s time.
“I’m a guy who honestly just does what coach asks. That’s what the team needs from me, energy off the bench, defense, help my teammates get open looks, set screens, get extra possessions, block a few shots. It’s kind of what I’m supposed to do and I’m glad to do it.”
Self notes that the “game has slowed down a bit for him. He still has to work on that. where he slows down, seems to be not as much on edge. I don’t do a great job of calming him when I probably should,” Self added with a smile.
Roberts recently addressed Lightfoot’s anxiousness on the court when asked on Self’s Hawk Talk radio show what he’d give Lightfoot for Christmas.
“I’d give Mitch a book or video book, something like that to relax him. Just relax,” Roberts said.
Lightfoot understands what the coaches are saying.
“I have to be smart setting screens, can’t make stupid fouls 94 feet away from the basket. That’s the big thing with coach, make sure we are making good decisions and not getting fouls that are not aggressive fouls,” he said. “I have to rebound better. I’ve got to get in position in the front of the rim. I can’t get pushed underneath. I just have to go get a rebound.”
Notes from Thursday’s game
KU is 10-2 or better for the third straight year. The Jayhawks have claimed at least 10 nonconference wins for the fourth-straight year and the 13th time in Self’s 15 seasons. … KU has won six straight games in California. The Jayhawks are 7-2 in games contested in California under Self. … KU, which hit 62.5 percent of its shots in the first half, have shot 60 percent or better in a half six times this season. … KU held Stanford without a field goal for nearly seven minutes in the second half, beginning at the 16:17 mark. The Cardinal went 0 for 8 in that span with four turnovers. … KU outscored Stanford, 48-20, in the paint. … KU was 0 for 5 from three in the second half. It was the first time KU was held without a three in a half since making zero in the first half against Kentucky on Jan. 28, 2017. It ended a streak of 26 games that KU had hit at least one three in both halves. … Udoka Azubuike has made 44 of 55 shots in December. … Svi Mykhailiuk was held without a three for the first time this season and just the sixth time in his last 48 games. ... Devonté Graham scored 14 points and moved past Stanford coach/former KU guard Jerod Haase into 33rd place on KU’s scoring list. Graham had six assists and moved past Mark Turgeon to 13th on the career assist list (441).