The soft-spoken, skinny-framed power forward from Gilbert, Ariz., is ranked the 117th-best player in the nation by Rivals.com — a far cry from the one-and-done candidates the Jayhawks have hauled in the past several years. However, Kansas fans should be thrilled.
Lightfoot is exactly the type of player Bill Self has worked magic with time and time again, in the same grain as the likes of Jeff Withey, Cole Aldrich and other defensive-minded bigs but with the footwork of a young Nick Collison, the motor of a Darnell Jackson and explosiveness bordering on a Thomas Robinson — OK, a much skinnier Thomas Robinson.
Lightfoot is like many Jayhawks before him, and yet unique in that he has his own style, his own flair, his own faults and his own story.
The high school coach of future Kansas University basketball forward Mitch Lightfoot just happens to be Kurt Keener — the same man who won nine state titles in 35 seasons at Detroit Country Day in Michigan.
Keener — who, like Lightfoot, is starting his second season at Gilbert Christian High in Arizona — is quite the talent developer and evaluator.
At Country Day, he tutored NBA players Chris Webber, Shane Battier and Ray McCallum, as well as fellow McDonald’s All American Amir Williams, formerly of Ohio State.
“I would say Mitch has that same competitive fire. That’s the thing that both Chris and Shane had. They were intense competitors,” Keener said in a Sunday interview with the Journal-World. “I don’t think he (Lightfoot) is as physically gifted as Chris Webber was at this stage, nor do I think he’s quite the cerebral basketball player that Shane was. He’s not far off…”
…“It goes back. I’ve been coaching a long time. The guy from Kansas I remember seeing in high school (was) Raef LaFrentz. His style of play in similar to Raef LaFrentz. That’s a guy I would compare him to,” Keener said.
“My sights have always been on Kansas,” Lightfoot said Saturday after orally committing to KU in a ceremony at the Arizona Preps Fall Showcase event in Glendale, Arizona.
The rabid KU fan — he was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and lived there until he was 6, when his family headed to Tucson — sought out help in getting noticed by the Jayhawks.
“I met with my coach (after decommitting),” Lightfoot said of Arizona Power AAU coach John Ortega, “and he said, ‘What do you want out of this?’
“I said, ‘I want to play at Kansas.’ It’s been my goal since I knew what basketball was, ever since then. I’ve been working my butt off to try to get there. To all the kids sitting in the stands watching the Jayhawks, wanting to be a Jayhawk, you can definitely do it,” Lightfoot, the No. 117-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2016 (by Rivals.com), added.
Ortega said that, after speaking with Lightfoot, he phoned recruiting analyst Jerry Mullen, who contacted KU about Lightfoot’s interest.
“Forty minutes later, I get a call, and coach Roberts (Norm, KU) is asking about our practice times. They were going to take a private jet to see a workout. That was a Monday. On Wednesday, coach Roberts saw Mitch work out and was blown away by the workout. Two days later, coach (Bill) Self called to offer him. Mitch came over and said, ‘Kansas just offered.’ It was a dream-come-true-type moment,’” Ortega said.
A great student who has qualified for admission to Stanford, Lightfoot wanted to make his NCAA-allotted five visits — to KU, St. John’s, Stanford, Arizona and Utah — before officially telling Self he’d accepted his offer earlier this week.
“I took all these visits. I was going to go where I felt comfortable. That was Kansas, by far,” Lightfoot said. “I felt like I was at home there, and it is home. Everyone in Kansas ... Jayhawk fans are a big family. It’s important to me to be part of a big family organization. It’s why I want to be there.”
“You can take the boy out of Kansas,” he said Saturday, “But you can’t take Kansas out of the boy.”
Still, it didn’t appear that Kansas would be interested in a three-star prospect with limited offers from big-time schools. That changed last spring. After a standout junior season at Gilbert Christian in Gilbert, Ariz., Lightfoot had a breakout spring on the AAU circuits. A short while after decommitting from New Mexico in April, Lightfoot fielded a call from Self.
“When that phone call came in,” Rhonda Lightfoot said, “and my son said, ‘It’s Bill Self,’ it was like: ‘Oh, my gosh.’
“Everyone just lost their minds.”
…On Saturday, Lightfoot described himself as a “stretch four”, a power forward with the ability to stretch the floor with a solid shooting ability. As a junior, Lightfoot averaged 17.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as his team claimed the Division II Arizona state title. He described his playing style as similar to former KU forward Kevin Young — with perhaps a slightly better outside game.
“I loved how he played,” Lightfoot said. ”Players like that."
Kansas’ staff paid an in-home visit to Lightfoot in early September, and Lightfoot visited campus a week later. Lightfoot is not a five-star recruit and he likely won't be a McDonald’s All-American, but he did hold offers from Arizona and Utah, among other top basketball schools. In the end, he just couldn’t say no to Kansas.
“I felt the most comfortable at Kansas,” Lightfood said. “I fit in really well with their players. Also, I love the area. I love to hunt and fish and that area is the best for it. And then also, Coach Self — I really got along with him. He likes what I bring to the table, and I love his style of coaching. He gets after it, and that’s what I like to do. I like to get after it.”
Lightfoot offers perimeter shooting from beyond the 3-point arc and a toughness around the glass, defending and scoring.
After playing his first two high school seasons at Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge in Southern Arizona, Lightfoot’s family moved to the Valley because of his father’s job.
Despite missing six games while trying to become eligible to play because of the transfer, Lightfoot was a game changer down the stretch, leading Gilbert Christian to the Division II basketball championship. He averaged 17.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks.
He reopened his recruiting after decommitting from New Mexico, and even bigger programs came in to offer him.
“We don’t have unrealistic expectations,” Matt Lightfoot said. “He knows he’s going to go hard every day in practice. He watched their practices. He watched Arizona’s practices. They go really hard every day. He thrives on the competition.”
Kansas University freshman forward Cheick Diallo, whose high school academic credentials continue to be examined by the NCAA Eligibility Center as tipoff for the 2015-16 season nears, showed off some linguistic expertise at Bill Self’s sixth-annual Ladies Night Out cancer benefit Thursday in Allen Fieldhouse.
During a meet-and-greet/Q-and-A session with 450 attendees, Diallo, KU’s 6-foot-9 Mali native, introduced himself in English, then answered a question in French and finally in his native Bambara.
…Asked in the player Q and A which contest stood out as his favorite so far at KU, senior Perry Ellis said last season’s West Virginia-at-KU game.
“I got hurt that game, and my teammates stepped up. I was proud we were able to win the league (by virtue of 76-69 win),” Ellis said.
“I’d say the West Virginia game,” agreed senior Jamari Traylor. “That gave us 11 straight (league titles).”
KU junior guard Frank Mason III was asked what would be the strength of this year’s team.
“I would say depth,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can come off the bench and spark the team. Most importantly, our great coach.”
…Self said the Jayhawks had a good practice before Ladies Night Out.
“It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the best, but I think we gained on it a little bit today,” he said, noting KU’s injured players (Selden, Traylor, ankle sprains) were back practicing. “We need to get better the next two days because beginning next week we’ll start scrimmaging an awful lot. There’s an awful lot of stuff we need to get in before we start scrimmaging.”
First exhibition is Nov. 4 versus Pittsburg State. Tipoff is 7 p.m. in Allen.
RockChalkWeekly.com: 2015-16 Kansas Basketball Preview
Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Lahaina, HI, Nov. 23-25 - (ESPN Family)
Participants: Chaminade (DII, host), Indiana (Big Ten), Kansas (Big 12), St. John's (Big East), UCLA (Pac-12), UNLV (Mountain West), Vanderbilt (SEC), Wake Forest (ACC)
The skinny: This is the grandfather of Thanksgiving week college basketball tournaments. Once again the cozy Lahaina Civic Center on Maui will play host to a premier field plucked from the mainland's best conferences. Kansas, led by slick point guard Frank Mason and steady forward Perry Ellis, is the favorite. But don’t expect Vanderbilt and Indiana to leave the island without a fight.
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”
Big 12 / College News
Tim Jankovich, SMU's associate head coach, spends his October days studying film and often running team meetings. He takes the lead on scouting reports and runs practices when Brown's away recruiting.
The way senior point guard Nic Moore sees it, "We've got two head coaches."
Starting Nov. 14, SMU will have only one.
Jankovich will be the Mustangs' acting head coach during Brown's suspension. Everyone sees him as amply qualified for the role.
…Jankovich, who signed a contract promising him head coaching duties upon Brown's departure, is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country. Based on SMU's tax return for the 2013 year, he made a little less than $600,000. That's more than a $200,000 raise from his annual salary as head coach at Illinois State. It's also more than what 20 head coaches in the 2015 NCAA tournament make annually.
"To be the coach-in-waiting at SMU and have the opportunity to coach under Larry Brown was like a double bonus for me," says Jankovich, who crafted his offense at Illinois State off of Brown's Philadelphia 76ers team. "It was a great move on their part."
Former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves is being investigated for his role in an alleged sexual assault in Genesee County, according to prosecutors.
Maria Miller, director of communications for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, confirmed Friday, Oct. 23, that her staff was transferred a case from Genesee County investigating Cleaves for a possible sexual assault.
Details of the allegations have not been released and Miller said the case remains under investigation.
There is no timeline on the investigation, Miller said.
Frank J. Manley, a Flint-based attorney for Cleaves, said he was aware of the complaint and asked people reserve judgment on Cleaves.
"It's a private matter," said Manley, who declined further comment.
Jarrett Allen, a 6-9 senior forward from St. Stephens Episcopal in Austin, Texas, visited KU over the weekend. He’s also considering Kentucky, Notre Dame, Texas, Kansas State, Houston, Indiana and North Carolina. He will visit Kentucky next weekend.
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2015-16)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube