LAWRENCE — After witnessing two seasons of frontcourt depth issues, Kansas basketball fans can expect to see a much bigger Jayhawk squad this fall.
Mitch Lightfoot gave them a sneak peek of that Sunday.
The 6-foot-8 forward joined several of his KU teammates in returning to campus over the weekend and participating in an autograph signing Sunday at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, though he sported a noticeably larger build. In the two months since the Jayhawks’ season-ending defeat, Lightfoot says he’s already added 16 pounds and now weighs 225 pounds.
“That wasn’t on coach (Andrea) Hudy’s scale,” Lightfoot quipped. “We’ve got to see on her scale.”
While he’s working closely with Hudy, the strength and conditioning coach, as well as director of sports nutrition Aaron Carbuhn, Lightfoot said the key to his dramatic bulk up has been relatively simple.
“Eating — a lot more. That’s the best exercise,” said Lightfoot, who hopes to reach 230 pounds by the team’s boot camp practices this fall. “If you want to get bigger, eat a lot.”
Lightfoot has been consuming six meals a day, and while he isn’t tracking calories, he’s focusing on bulk by downing several protein shakes throughout the day. Dinner, he said, is the biggest meal he eats, though all meals are “probably the same size as whatever you guys are getting,” he told reporters.
It’s all part of the build to a pivotal junior campaign for a player who appears to be just as hungry from a metaphorical standpoint.
Lightfoot averaged 3.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season across 14 minutes per game, almost exclusively playing the five position in relief of starting center Udoka Azubuike. Without forward Billy Preston — the inactive freshman never played for KU and left midway through the season amid questions surrounding a vehicle he had been driving on campus — and through a regular-season campaign where midseason addition Silvio De Sousa struggled to stay on the court, Lightfoot proved invaluable for the Jayhawks in a role not quite natural for his size or skillset.
As De Sousa emerged in the postseason, though, Lightfoot’s playing time dwindled, dropping to only four combined minutes across the team’s final three contests. And with Azubuike and De Sousa returning, 6-9 Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson now eligible and 6-10 incoming freshman center David McCormack joining the fold, minutes might be difficult to come by in the KU frontcourt.
None of that has stopped Lightfoot from getting his body to a point where he could easily double his minutes per game next season if necessary.
“I feel like this summer for me, obviously I understood being bigger is a big thing for me, a big part of this team,” Lightfoot said. “Coach has been really focused on us getting bigger, improving our bodies and changing them. Coach Hudy has been doing that, and she’s been doing a great job. A bunch of guys have changed their bodies to be more explosive or are getting bigger, in my case. It’s been a great summer for us.
“We’ve got some big boys on this team, so I’ve just got to keep getting bigger and keep getting stronger.”
For his part, Lightfoot isn’t seeing the amount of bodies in the frontcourt as an issue for KU, which until the last two seasons embraced a traditional inside-out approach. The aforementioned depth concerns forced the Jayhawks to go with the four-guard look last season, and the abilities of one-and-done superstar Josh Jackson allowed the team to almost exclusively go with the look the year prior.
“I think it’s good for the fans and it’s good for us, too, because we get to play different, back to how Coach (Bill) Self plays,” Lightfoot said. “Obviously, he’s in charge of how we play, but with more big guys you have more options, so we can play two bigs now because we have more bodies.”
Seen as a prototypical player for the four spot on the floor, Lightfoot said he could even see himself making appearances at the three next season.
What a difference one year — and one recruiting class — can make.
“It’d be nice to get back to playing my actual position,” Lightfoot said. “Obviously, doing whatever Coach Self needs me to do for the team to win is the position I’m trying to be in, but three, four, five — any of those spots is where I’m going to try to do some damage.”
Lightfoot’s role on the 2018-19 team remains to be seen, but before that’s decided, he has plenty of time to familiarize himself with his new teammates — between gulps of protein shakes, of course.
“Honestly, I think it all starts today. Having all the guys together for the first time, it’s the beginning of a journey to another Final Four, and hopefully another national championship. That’s the goal,” Lightfoot said. “... Looking back at last season, it was great and everything, but we were still knocking on the doorstep. We’ve got to, as Coach has said, beat that door down. We’ve got to win one of ‘em. Just taking our time and getting ready.”