Bill Self on return of former Jayhawks: ‘Those guys have given their heart and soul to this place’
Rim protector Mitch Lightfoot’s popularity with Kansas basketball fans has been soaring during the Jayhawks’ current three-game winning streak.
Twitter accounts calling themselves “The Mitch Lightfoot Fan Club” and “Prison Mitch” have been active in response to the 6-foot-8 junior power forward’s five crowd-pleasing blocks the past two home games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia and three rejections in another win — at TCU.
“It’s, ‘No easy baskets’ around here. I think they appreciate that,” Lightfoot said of fans embracing the team motto crafted around defending in the paint.
“Jayhawk fans understand basketball. They understand the opportunity for us to take points away from the other team is big for us, not only from the score on the scoreboard but the mental game we are playing. It is important,” Lightfoot added.
Gilbert, Ariz., native Lightfoot is second on the team in blocks (18) despite ranking eighth in overall minutes played (245).
“I’m just trying to help the team play its best basketball. That (three-game win streak)) has happened to involve me playing my best basketball. It’s about us winning. It feels good to win,” he said.
Some of Lightfoot’s signature plays of late?
He not only stuffed a dunk attempt by 6-foot-10 Oklahoma State forward Yor Anei in KU’s 84-72 victory over OSU on Feb. 9 at Allen Fieldhouse, he also stared down the freshman as Anei stumbled from the paint to the corner of the court.
On Saturday, Lightfoot tore the ball from Brandon Knapper on a held-ball rebound in KU’s 78-53 victory over West Virginia at Allen. He also took three charges on defense to 16,300 fans’ delight.
“It’s super cool,” Lightfoot said of his relationship with the fans. “It’s a dream for me to be able to play here. There have been ups and downs (in Lightfoot’s career). It’s cool to have these fans behind me. They love me and I love them.”
KU coach Bill Self has started freshman forward David McCormack next to junior Dedric Lawson the past three games. He’s elected to go with two bigs in a response to the loss of guard Lagerald Vick to an indefinite leave of absence and Marcus Garrett to an ankle injury.
Lightfoot has produced 15 points and 22 boards while playing 65 minutes in KU’s last three games, while McCormack has scored 14 points and grabbed 12 boards (in 55 minutes). He’s had four blocks to Lightfoot’s eight.
“Mitch and David have both been a nice spark for us,” Self said. “They are blocking shots. Their activity level has been good. David is a heavier body (265 pounds to Lightfoot’s 225). He fouls too much. Mitch does too. This at least allows Dedric (Lawson) not to have to guard the 5, which is good for us in most situations.
“They’ve been very good for us. We’ve been a better ball screen team defensively since we’ve been playing two bigs rather than playing one big.”
Self continued: “Mitch has given us great energy altering and blocking. You can’t win without Mitch and David’s intangibles. You can’t win without things K.J. (Lawson, 25 points last two games) did the other day. You can’t win without that. You still have to have your producers (but) they went from being just those guys who help a team win to those guys that are counted on to help a team win.”
Lightfoot has sensed a renewed energy from the Jayhawks during their three-game winning streak.
“It all starts at practice,” Lightfoot said. “We all understand what it takes. We are fighting. This team is built on that ability to fight. We see our goal. We are doing whatever it takes to get there.”
KU, which has won 14 straight Big 12 regular-season titles, entered the week one game behind first-place Kansas State in the loss column of the Big 12 standings. KSU opened the week 9-3, followed by KU and Texas Tech (9-4), Iowa State (8-4), Baylor (7-5), Texas, (7-6), TCU (5-7), Oklahoma (4-9), Oklahoma State and West Virginia (2-10).
“There’s a lot of opportunities for us to heal up (this week); at the same time, we have a second to get ready for Texas Tech,” Lightfoot said of a schedule that has KU idle until a 7 p.m. Saturday game at in Lubbock, Texas. “K-State is important (two days later at Allen Fieldhouse). Right now we’ve got to worry about our next game, Texas Tech.”
LaMelo mentions KU
LaMelo Ball, the brother of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball and son of the outspoken LaVar Ball, said on the latest episode of the reality show, “Ball in the Family,” that he will play college basketball next season instead of heading straight to the NBA D-League.
He is a 6-foot-5 senior guard at SPIRE Institute in Ohio.
“Oh I’m going (to college) for sure now,” LaMelo Ball said (on a show taped in November) as reported by lonzowire.usatoday.com. “I actually talked to USC two days ago. I’m talking to KU.”
LaMelo has mentioned Kentucky, Michigan, Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State in the past.
But it is also possible that LaMelo is ineligible for college basketball.
According to lonzowire.usatoday.com, he reportedly signed with an agent in December of 2017 when he dropped out of high school. His dad has said no papers were ever signed with an agent. Also, LaMelo played in Lithuania in the Junior Basketball Association. If he was paid to play, he’s ineligible to compete in college.
KU coaches cannot comment on recruiting in accordance with NCAA rules.
Enaruna excels at camp
Tristan Enaruna, a 6-7 senior forward from Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, Utah, is being recruited by KU, Creighton, Miami, Texas and Texas Tech, he told Rivals.com. The Netherlands native is ranked No. 105 in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com.
“It was the best that we have seen Tristan Enaruna play to date as he looked like a legitimate NBA Draft target while competing against some of the most touted international prospects,” Corey Evans of Rivals.com wrote at a Basketball Without Borders camp last weekend in Charlotte, N.C. “Enaruna sports a great frame that he should fill out and while he has been knocked for his toughness in the past, he did show the capacity to play through contact and take the bump before finishing at the basket.
“Eraruna remains at his best as an ambidextrous playmaker in the frontcourt that can throw precise passes on the go and also convert on nifty off-handed runners in the lane. What put things over the top was his consistent perimeter jumper that we had never seen before. He was one of the biggest stock boosters in Charlotte,” Evans added.