If Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self sticks with his stated plan, he will be balancing playing time during his team’s upcoming trip to the World University Games in South Korea. In a broad sense, the plan could mean different starting lineups each game and minutes spread equally among the entire roster. In specific terms, it could mean a pivotal opportunity for such players as senior forward Hunter Mickelson and junior big man Landen Lucas, two likely reserves who will be battling for frontcourt minutes this fall.
“I think I can (impress),” said Mickelson, who is entering his final season at Kansas. “But it’s an opportunity for everybody when the system is like that. Other guys can come in at different positions and try and impress. Maybe I’ll be able to do the same.”
Mickelson, a former transfer from Arkansas, played just seven minutes per game last season, the odd man out in a frontcourt rotation that also featured Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Cliff Alexander and Lucas. Alexander departed for the NBA Draft after one season, but two newcomers — freshmen forwards Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo — will add to a large frontcourt puzzle in the fall. Diallo, a native of Mali, is not eligible to play for the United States in international competition and isn’t expected to arrive on campus until July. But the addition of Bragg will mean a rotation of five bigs in South Korea.
“I feel like we’ll all have a chance to contribute,” Lucas said. “I just hope I can get out there and play well.”
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Lucas, who underwent offseason surgery on his left leg, took close to three months off before getting back on a basketball court this month. He says he’s now back at full strength, but still trying to work back into game shape.
For Lucas, the trip to Korea could also serve as a crucial proving ground. As a redshirt sophomore, Lucas averaged 3.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while primarily serving as the Jayhawks’ fourth big man. This year, he will have to compete with two new talented freshmen, while also vying with Traylor and Mickelson in the post.
Earlier this week, a reporter asked Lucas if Kansas had more depth in the frontcourt this year. He nodded.
“It’s weird to say that, because I feel like the last couple years, we’ve had that type of depth,” Lucas said. “This year, they’ll be an insane amount of people that have either started here or started at other schools.
“Hunter started at Arkansas, mixed in with (McDonald’s) All-Americans. It’s probably one (frontcourt) that most teams would be very fortunate to have. And we are fortunate.”
Fortunate? Sure. Competitive? That, too.
This summer, Lucas says he’s trying to focus on (and refine) his offensive game — both on finishing around the rim and on his decision-making when he catches in the post. Lucas shot 53 percent from the floor last season and, according to advanced metrics, he profiles as a solid defensive rebounder.
Self likes to say that Lucas was the Jayhawks’ most improved player last season. One year later, Lucas would like that to be the case again.
The same goes for Mickelson, who no doubt feels the looming urgency of a senior season.
“This is the last go-round,” Mickelson said. “So if anything was going to happen, it’s got to be this year. Just getting as far in the tournament (as we can) and winning championships and stuff like that. This would be the year to try and go for something like that.”