In order to reach his first and only Final Four in five seasons at Kansas, Landen Lucas must defeat his mom and dad’s alma mater — the University of Oregon.
It’s a school naturally dear to the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Portland native’s heart.
“Landen loves the Oregon Ducks, especially football,” Lucas’ mother, Shelley, said Friday in a phone conversation. “In seventh grade he literally wore something Oregon, something green and yellow, every single day,”
“I think it’ll be hugely exciting for him. He wants to beat them really bad. It’ll be very exciting,” Shelley added of Saturday’s 7:49 p.m., NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Elite Eight game between the No. 1-seed Jayhawks (31-4) and No. 3-seed Ducks (32-5) at the Sprint Center.
Lucas, a starter who averages 7.9 points (on 64.1 percent shooting) and 8.4 rebounds per game, doesn’t have any close friends on the current Oregon team, yet follows the Ducks closely. Oregon was the regular-season Pac 12 co-champ with Arizona.
“He told me last night, ‘Coach, I’ve seen them play at least 15 times this year,’” KU coach Bill Self said. “He wouldn’t be watching any other teams from the Pac-12 that amount of time unless there was a vested interest. He has a lot of respect for back home.”
Lucas, a popular interview target for the media even when he’s not playing a school from his home state, gladly expounded on his interest in Oregon basketball during a media session Friday at Sprint Center.
“When I was a kid I was a huge Oregon fan. I always watched Oregon, loved Oregon because of my parents going there. My dad played there. As a kid you want to be like him,” Lucas said of Richard Lucas, a 6-7 forward who averaged 15.3 points (on 61.9 percent shooting) and 8.8 rebounds a game for Oregon in 1990-91, his senior year.
“Now I’m all about Kansas,” Lucas added. “It was a connection that was cool and all, but the second I came to Kansas it was all about Kansas. Now with them (Ducks) being the opponent, I’m excited to play them.”
Lucas — who has averaged 5.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in his career at Kansas — was recruited some by Oregon, but eliminated the Ducks fairly early in the process.
“I looked at them. I wanted to give them a chance especially because of my dad. They have a great coaching staff. I enjoyed it,” Lucas said. “My decision to come to Kansas is something based on how Kansas is, not about the other schools. Once I made that decision, no looking back.”
“He was pretty involved,” Lucas added of Oregon coach Dana Altman. “It was a good relationship. I don’t think it ever got super strong. I narrowed my list. They weren’t on there.”
Altman said he’s followed Lucas’ career from afar.
“What he’s meant to the club this year and last year after spending three years developing with Bill and his system really shows sticking with something and perseverance,” Altman said. “It’s still a quality that’s very important. We’re really happy for him — great guy, great family. His dad is a great guy. I hope he doesn’t play well tomorrow, but he’s had a heck of a career.”
Landen’s parents both say they love their alma mater, but will have no mixed emotions while sitting in the Sprint Center stands for the game. Their allegiance is to Landen all the way.
“There will be no divided down the middle. Tomorrow it’ll be all KU,” said Shelley, a 1990 Oregon grad. “I asked him (Richard) last night, ‘Do you feel like you ought to wear a T-shirt that’s half Oregon and half KU?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not. I have to cheer for Landen 100 percent.’”
Richard — who admittedly had a great time Thursday night wearing both Oregon and KU gear as he watched both teams win Sweet 16 contests at Sprint Center — emphatically explained his position, his unequivocal support of Landen.
“I’m an Oregon guy. I’m an Oregon alum and a proud Oregon alum. I’ve rooted for them in women’s basketball to lacrosse to whatever it is I root for it. But for two hours tomorrow it’s all about KU and Kansas,” Richard said. “That’s my son. That’s Landen. The fact more than anything is Landen worked his tail off to get himself in this position.
“Over the years there’s been many conversations about being at Kansas and the fact this or that 5-star kid is coming in (maybe affecting Landen’s role) and all of that. Him fighting through that, what he can do and how he can help his team. Rebounding, clearing out a lane, understanding the game.”
Lucas credits his dad — an analyst on a pair of TV shows covering Oregon basketball — for much of his savvy on the court.
“He’s huge. He’s made me into the player I am now,” Landen said. “He helped me in my mind-set to do the little things. He was able to do that for his team. He told me if I’m able to do that at the highest level I can help any team out.
“Every day,” Landen added of receiving advice from his father. “He was a former player, a former coach. I get every angle from him. I try to take his advice and listen to it. Good or bad I know he knows what he’s talking about.”
Richard, who remembers screaming, “Rebound” to Landen during organized games when Landen was 7-years-old, enjoys watching Landen as a finished product.
The two have a running joke going on about their respective careers.
“His career high is 18 rebounds,” Landen said of Richard grabbing 18 versus Stanford back in the day. “I tied it, but it was against Iowa State (KU loss on Feb. 4 at Allen Fieldhouse). It went to overtime and he’s not counting that. I got to get at least 18 or more hopefully so I can shut him up and he won’t talk about it anymore.”
Richard explained his version of the ribbing: “After the game (vs. Iowa State) I was like, ‘That was great and all (but) that doesn’t count. It was after a loss. Nobody was in a cheery mood. It was in jest (to help lighten the mood), but mine WAS in regulation,” Richard added.
A Hollywood script would include Lucas having a big game versus Oregon on Saturday.
“I think it would be great if he got it (19 boards) this game (but) no pressure,” Shelley said. “This team is so focused on winning nobody thinks about that (numbers). They all want each other to do great. Landen is as excited for the other bigs to do the job as he is himself. It’s been so much fun to watch this team,” she added.
Shelley — she’s had an apartment in Lawrence to be able to watch Landen play every home game while keeping her house in Portland — is in no hurry for this all to end.
A win over Oregon would push KU into next week’s Final Four in Phoenix. A loss would mean Landen’s college career is over.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” said Shelley. “We have Oregon friends who are also fans. They are torn on both sides for sure. They’ll root for Landen and put Oregon aside one day,” Shelley said.
As far as what it’ll take to overcome an Oregon team that’s led by double-figure scorers Dillon Brooks (16.3 points per game), Tyler Dorsey (14.1 ppg), Jordan Bell (10.9 ppg) and Dylan Ennis (10.7 ppg), Landen said: “It’s hard to not equate them with their football team — team speed and all that stuff. They play fast and up-tempo. That’s how I picture them.”
Hoops analyst Richard Lucas’ take?
“This Oregon team is very good. They’ve got a lot of weapons. It’s a home game essentially (for KU). Kansas overall should win this game, but I’m not quite sure it’s going to be just roll the ball out there and win by 25 and call it a day,” Richard said.