Landen Lucas was a key player on the 2015-16, and 2016-17 teams. He made his mark rebounding the ball and playing defense. These are both things the 2017-18 team struggle with greatly. I (Landen Fields) was able to talk to Landen (Lucas) this weekend to get his take on the current state of Kansas basketball.
ROCK CHALK BLOG: From what you’ve seen, why do you think this Kansas team has struggled so much on defense and rebounding compared to previous years?
Landen Lucas: I’d say it’s a combination of a few things. Size being one. We had the two big lineup in most situations up until last year, and then last year we had Josh [Jackson] who was so athletic and actually had good size that made up for being considered a ‘guard’. I’d also say it’s a mindset that has to take part throughout the team. We used to fight for rebounds in games where we were up big. Sometimes to get double-doubles, sometimes just for fun, but it was a mindset we had that each rebound was ours and that was contagious. Last thing you can’t overlook would be Frank [Mason]. [He was] the best rebounding guard under six feet tall I’ve seen before. [I] hated when he stole them from me, but in key moments of the game that was huge sometimes if we all boxed out and he came in to grab it.
RCB: You mention Josh Jackson and Frank Mason and they were considered ‘tough’ and ‘gritty’ players. Do you think this year’s team is as soft as Bill Self and the media say it is?
Lucas: I don’t think so. Losing multiple games quickly because of the same few reasons quickly gets associated with the word soft or lack of effort most times. And while the numbers may show the team as a whole might be playing soft, and I know exactly where people are coming from who say that about the team, I don’t believe the players individually are. I know for sure the guys I was there for more than one season aren’t, which makes it easy to turn around if everyone gets on the same page and buys into coach Self.
RCB: I’ve heard some criticism of Self, saying that he doesn’t coach boxing out well and that he makes poor in-game decisions. Are those things true?
Lucas: Coach [Norm] Roberts is who works with the bigs and he always did a great job. As far as coach Self and in-game decisions, I think whenever you’re a Hall of Fame coach like him, it’s because you’ve made big risky decisions and sometimes they don’t work out. Imagine the things that would have been said about Nick Saban if the decision to bench the starter (quarterback Jalen Hurts) at halftime for a freshman didn’t work out. Yet he’s glorified for doing it because it did [work out]. So I stick by coach [Self] and his decisions whether or not they work out 100% of the time. I would suggest everyone do the same.
RCB: That’s a great example and I completely agree. Speaking of the bigs, what advice would/have you given Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, and Silvio De Sousa?
Lucas: Udoka: Just [to] keep doing him. Stay out of foul trouble. Get every rebound. With Mitch, just keep doing your job. [I] think he’s realizing what it takes to get on the court. Now it’s just about taking that to the next level and continuing to sacrifice for the team. If you take zero shots but you get big rebounds, play defense, and most importantly your team wins, that’s a win for someone in that role. With De Sousa just to stay ready. Coach Self will play and do whatever it takes to win and at times that could mean playing guys who haven’t played a ton of minutes in important situations and if that time comes he just needs to be ready. Learn in the meantime, from the goods and bads of the the bigs in front of him.
RCB: How good do you think Udoka can be if he sticks around all four years?
Lucas: So good it makes it hard to even imagine him being around that long. But if he did, it would be fun to watch.
RCB: It would be fun, that’s for sure. So let’s move onto some questions about you. What is your favorite memory from your career at Kansas?
Lucas: Something that I didn’t realize until recently is just how special playing in the Fieldhouse is. Any game, doesn’t matter the opponent. It’s something during your time there you always know is cool but not until after can you look back and see just how special it is. So I would say playing home games is my favorite memory right now.
RCB: I’ve attended three games in Allen Fieldhouse and gotten goosebumps every time. It’s incredible. As a kid was there a player you really looked up to or modeled your game after?
Lucas: Probably my dad. Which got me into rebounding, so guys like Dennis [Rodman] and [Charles] Barkley were always intriguing to me, the way they would rebound the ball. Always enjoyed how much Rodman enjoyed rebounding. Zero points, 20 rebounds and a win for his team was better than 30 points, zero rebounds, and a loss. Always enjoyed watching Rick Mahorn tape on that Detroit [Pistons] team too.
RCB: Lastly, do you have any plans to visit Lawrence anytime soon?
Lucas: “[I] should be out there sometime this spring for my sports for life foundation (landenlucasfoundation.org). Always looking for help. [I] may come do a camp or golf clinic. If I can find time to come out before that I will and maybe catch a game too.”
RCB: Very cool. Thank you so much for your time!
Lucas: No problem!