Lauressa “LaLa” Vick isn’t the least bit surprised her son, Lagerald, is on an uptick heading into Kansas’ Sweet 16 battle against Clemson on Friday night at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
“When March Madness hit, he called me. He was like, ‘We’re gonna win, mom. I got this. I’m better than this,’” LaLa said Tuesday night in a phone conversation with The Star. “I saw this coming anyway. I saw him getting himself ready during the Big 12 Tournament. I knew March Madness was going to be all right for him.”
Lagerald Vick, KU’s 6-foot-5 junior combo guard from Memphis, who combined for just 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting and was 1 of 10 from three-point range in the final three games of the regular season, has produced double-figure points in five straight postseason games.
Vick — who scored 31 points in three Big 12 Tournament games — tallied 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3 of 4 from three) and grabbed four rebounds while playing 33 minutes in Saturday’s 83-79 second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Seton Hall in Wichita.
In a 76-60 first-round win over Penn, he had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting (2 of 4 from three) with two rebounds and two steals while playing 32 minutes.
“Before the Big 12 Tournament, he said he was still in a slump. He came out of it. Now he’s doing what people expect him to do,” LaLa Vick said, noting she either speaks with her son or exchanges texts with him every day. “He told me they’re going to get this. He said they are taking this home,” she added of the Jayhawks winning the 2018 national title.
Obviously KU’s chances of advancing to the Final Four would be helped if Vick continues to build on his performances during KU’s two victories in Wichita.
“I think he can keep it up. I expect more this next game,” LaLa Vick said, describing Lagerald’s play as “off and on” this junior season.
Vick — who averages 12.1 points and 4.8 boards — opened by scoring 20 or more points in five of the Jayhawks’ first nine games, slumping to single-digit scoring in six of seven games from Jan. 2-23.
“I told him, ‘I know some weight is off your shoulders (after having five good games in a row).’ I said, ‘You’ve got to play ball now. You already know the game, just give it to ‘em.’ I tell him all the time it’s a mind thing, don’t let anything get to your head.
“I know it’s rough for him. He misses his daughter (5-year-old Markayla Moss-Vick). He can’t get here (Memphis) when he wants to. We sent him Bible verses to read. He says he’s OK. He’s stronger than people think he is.”
LaLa Vick said she challenges her son.
“I said, ’Dude, bring it. Play your game, kid. You scored 14 points. Give them 20,’’’ she said with a laugh.
KU will meet Clemson at 6:07 p.m. Friday with the winner advancing to Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Duke or Syracuse for a spot in the Final Four.
“He just does a lot of things that a lot of us can’t do basically,” KU senior point guard Devonté Graham said of Vick. “His athleticism (lets him do what) guys like Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Malik (Newman) on the perimeter can't do — putbacks, lobs, getting to the offensive glass. He can defend multiple positions, 1 through 4. So just being the X-factor, when he brings that energy, he’s a mismatch for a bigger guard, and then he kind of posts up on little guards. So just when he’s energized and juiced up, he brings a lot to the table.”
KU coach Bill Self, who has started Vick in 32 of 36 games for the 29-7 Jayhawks, has called him “our X factor. When he is good he gives us a whole different element.
“I don't think his activity level during league play was quite as good as it was before,” Self said.
Normally soft-spoken, Vick seemed to come out of a shell a bit during the two NCAA games, more talkative with media, for a couple days at least.
“Just being more aggressive, taking more responsibility, having a huge impact on the court and bringing more energy. Just continue doing the smaller things,” Vick said of his “goals” for the NCAAs.
“I would say I just feel like I do all the little things that people don't always see or can comment or congratulate me on. I feel like I’m the person that can bring a lot of energy, and just do a lot of different things for the team and help us be successful.”
LaLa Vick, who will attend the game(s) this weekend in Nebraska, thinks the Jayhawks — including her son — are ready to roll.
“I talk to him and Malik (Newman). They room together,” LaLa said. “I told Malik, ‘The only way I’m getting to Nebraska is if you take me. I’ve got no reason to go to Nebraska.’ Malik said, ‘I got you.’ He scored 28 points (versus Seton Hall in second round),” she said with a laugh.
“I”ve never been to San Antonio either. The only way I’m going to get there is for them to take me there,” she added with a laugh, referring to the site of the Final Four.