University of Kansas

‘Bring your sun screen’ is advice of Mitch Lightfoot to those heading to Arizona this weekend for Final Four

Mitch Lightfoot (left) is hoping to work his way deeper into Kansas coach Bill Self’s rotation next season for the Jayhawks. Lightfoot will be a senior next season.
Mitch Lightfoot (left) is hoping to work his way deeper into Kansas coach Bill Self’s rotation next season for the Jayhawks. Lightfoot will be a senior next season. rsugg@kcstar.com

Mitch Lightfoot has some advice for fans who will be descending on Glendale, Ariz., this weekend for the 2017 Final Four.

“Well, it’s going to be 190 degrees. You might want to bring your sun screen,” said Lightfoot, Kansas’ freshman forward from Gilbert, Ariz.

Gonzaga, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oregon will play in the Final Four in Glendale this weekend.

Lightfoot was exaggerating a bit, of course. According to weather.com, temperatures in the Phoenix area will be in the upper 70s on Saturday, the day of the Final Four semifinals, and upper 80s on Monday, the day of the NCAA championship game.

Of course, the games are played indoor at massive University of Phoenix Stadium, configured to seat 75,000 for the Final Four.

“That is a huge gym, a huge dome, huge arena, gigantic,” said Lightfoot, a graduate of Gilbert Christian High, which is located about 30 miles from the Glendale arena which is home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.

“I was in there one time. They had about six basketball courts set up length-wise. I’ve never seen a basketball game in an arena that big.”

Lightfoot — who scored 24 points and grabbed 25 rebounds total while averaging 3.9 minutes per game across 26 games his freshman season at Kansas — had been hoping to play tour guide for the Jayhawks this weekend. However, KU fell to Oregon, 74-60, in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Elite Eight on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

That dream derailed, he’ll soon begin working on his body and his game in preparation for his sophomore season.

“Obviously I feel I’ve got to put on some weight. Hudy’s been helping me do that a lot,” said the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Lightfoot, referring to strength coach Andrea Hudy.

“If I want to become the best player I can, I’ve got to be able to post up and shoot the ball.”

In the future, he’s hoping to show off some versatility.

“In practice I can go anywhere from guarding Josh (Jackson) to Landen (Lucas) to Frank (Mason) all within a matter of four possessions,” Lightfoot said last weekend in Kansas City. “I’ve got to keep getting better to doing that and defending players like that.”

For the season, he hit 10 of 18 shots (55.6 percent) and was 2 of 3 from beyond the three-point arc. He was 2 of 12 from the free-throw line.

“That (outside shooting) is part of my game,” Lightfoot said. “Coach (Bill Self) encourages me to shoot when I’m in there, because why not do it if I can do it? Yes I’d like to be a stretch four.”

Of Lightfoot, who averaged 22.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.6 shots a game his senior year of high school, Self said: “I see Mitch as a Travis Releford, an Elijah Johnson, Jamari Traylor. Those guys may have played a little bit more than Mitch early on, but it’s hard to take a guy like Josh (Jackson) off the court unless situations dictate it — injuries or foul problems. He’s too good.

“Mitch is going to be a good player. He’s an athlete. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s got nice touch on the ball. He needs to have a big summer and certainly his minutes will steadily improve. But I said all long we recruited Mitch not for his first year, but as a program guy that two years from now everybody will say, ‘Man, aren’t you glad you got Mitch Lightfoot?’

“I believe that will be the case. He’s basically right on schedule with what we thought he would be. I wish we would’ve played him more. I’ll look back and probably kick myself about that quite a bit. When we made the decision to go to four guards, that eliminated a lot of his opportunities.”

Lightfoot is one of four bigs, who at this time, are ticketed to return next season. The others: sophomore-to-be Udoka Azubuike, junior Carlton Bragg and senior Dwight Coleby. Incoming freshman Billy Preston, a 6-9 forward from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., averaged 15.3 points and 10.4 boards his senior campaign in high school. KU and others (most notably Iowa State) are recruiting Hutchinson Community College sophomore forward Shakur Juiston, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound sophomore originally out of Paterson (N.J.) Eastside High School. Also, there will be a batch of college basketball transfer possibilities available in coming weeks or months as is always the case.

Guards Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk will either head to the NBA or return for their senior seasons. Other scholarship guards on the 2017-18 roster: junior-to-be Lagerald Vick, plus newcomer transfers Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe and incoming freshman Marcus Garrett.

Garrett, a 6-5 combo guard from Dallas Skyline High, who is ranked No. 37 nationally by Rivals.com, averaged a near triple-double his senior season (17.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 9.1 apg). KU also is recruiting No. 3-ranked Trevon Duval, 6-2 from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., who lists Kansas, Duke, Arizona, Baylor and Seton Hall as possible destinations. No. 78-ranked Mark Smith, a 6-4 guard from Edwardsville (Ill.) High, has had KU on his list as well as Illinois, Northwestern, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, DePaul, Butler, Nebraska, Texas and Kansas State. KU currently has two scholarships to award in recruiting, more if anybody turns pro or transfers.

Whether Lightfoot will play meaningful minutes next season is anybody’s guess.

“He has the right mindset. He has the right energy,” outgoing senior forward Landen Lucas said. “Now just kind of make sure he’s understanding and focusing in on what he needs to do and channel all the energy in the right places. You can see how much he’s trying every day, which is good. You want guys to try like that.”

Allen lists KU, others

Thomas Allen, a 6-foot-2 senior combo guard from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., who has been granted a release from his North Carolina State letter-of-intent, told the Raleigh News and Observer he’s heard from coaches from Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Providence, Auburn, Butler, Nebraska, Xavier and others.

“I feel like the first time I signed I rushed everything,” Allen told the News and Observer. I didn’t know how it was going to be if I didn’t sign early.”

Allen, the No. 149th-ranked player in the Class of 2017 according to Rivals.com, attended Garner (N.C.) High his junior year of high school.

“A good coach, the right players to play with, just the normal stuff,” he said, referring to what he seeks in a school. He said he hopes to make some campus visits starting next week and pick a school sometime in April.

Huskers sophomore to leave

Nebraska sophomore Ed Morrow has announced plans to transfer to a yet-to-be-determined school. The 6-7, 235-pound power forward out of Chicago’s Simeon High, averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds this past season at Nebraska. Morrow had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds while playing 24 minutes in KU’s 89-72 win over the Huskers on Dec. 10 at Allen Fieldhouse. Reporter Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-eye says Creighton, Missouri and Dayton are early possibilities. Morrow has had foot problems in each of his two seasons at Nebraska.

Gary Bedore: 816-234-4068, @garybedore

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