LAWRENCE — Amid Kansas basketball’s week of gloom, Mitch Lightfoot has identified a silver lining.
Chatting Friday morning with teammate Devon Dotson following the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks’ latest gut-punch — the indefinite leave of absence taken by senior guard Lagerald Vick — the junior forward touched on the subject of adversity with his freshman guard counterpart. It’s a feeling the blue-blood program has become familiar with over the last seven days, with the ineligibility ruling of sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, sophomore guard Marcus Garrett’s injury and the team’s 74-67 defeat Tuesday at Kansas State providing other moments of frustration.
If nothing else, Lightfoot indicated, the challenges may make for a tighter huddle.
“You’ve got to go through some adversity if you want to have something worth telling about,” Lightfoot later told reporters. “You’ve got to go through some stuff. I feel like that’s part (of it) — every good team has been through some stuff. I mean, look at last year. People were counting us out for a while.
“It takes going through some stuff to become the team you really can be.”
Less than 24 hours after announcing Vick’s departure to handle what KU (17-6, 6-4 Big 12) labeled “personal matters that require his immediate attention,” coach Bill Self shed more light on the situation and how the team plans to move forward without its second-leading scorer.
While Self said “there’s a great chance” Vick will eventually return, KU will move forward at practices and in game preparation as if he won’t come back. Part of the reasoning for that, Self contended, is simply the timing of Vick's departure — with eight regular-season games remaining, the team can’t afford to deal with roster uncertainties.
“We think we’ll get Lagerald back. We don’t know the time frame, but it’s not going to be (Saturday) by any stretch, or Monday, or probably soon after that,” Self said. “We need to make sure we support him, but on the flip side coach the guys we’ve got.”
If Vick does indeed return, it appears it won’t be a simple plug-and-play approach for the guard averaging 14.1 points on a team-high 45.5-percent shooting clip from 3-point range.
“Hopefully,” Self said, “we’ll have some other guys develop and hopefully play at a high level that maybe roles will be a little different by then.”
Junior forward Dedric Lawson said he’s unfamiliar with Vick’s situation, but he also added he “definitely” expects his fellow Memphis, Tenn., native to make a return to the team. He said he didn't get an opportunity to talk to Vick before the guard returned home, though Vick had addressed the team in recent days.
“We had a little team meeting between the guys and he was there and he was talking about how much he cared and how much he wanted to win, but sometimes his demeanor comes off wrong to people,” Lawson recalled. “I understand Lagerald just because of where he comes from. We come from the same city. That’s why I try my best to, like, talk to him a lot, and I understand him more than probably anybody on the team as far as his mental state and sometimes in the game, or during the game or at practice when he gets mad or frustrated with coaching.”
Self acknowledged frustration has set in over the Jayhawks' many setbacks, with KU also losing 7-foot starting junior center Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending hand injury in early January. While he’s spoken of late about this team’s ceiling being lower than those of predecessors, Self isn’t altering his expectations for the upcoming 11 a.m. Saturday home contest Oklahoma State (9-13, 2-7), perhaps the only team in the Big 12 with more roster upheaval.
“We’re going to be down, at least some men, but we’ve still got good enough players. These guys were recruited to Kansas to play,” Self said. “We’ve just got to step up and play better than what we’ve been playing — at least what we played on Tuesday.”
With Garrett officially out against the Cowboys and doubtful at best for the 8 p.m. Monday contest at TCU, the next 72 hours could define KU’s season.
"We definitely have to play with another chip on our shoulder,” said Lawson, who played all 40 minutes in the loss at K-State. “We're down another man and guys in the locker room understand that. That guys have to step up for us to be successful. It's not going to done by me or Devon or Quentin (Grimes) or (players) like that so other guys I think are embracing more of a role with the team for us to be successful and that's why we're going to go out there and play with a chip on our shoulder, more angry. I mean, we've lost games we shouldn't have lost."
One of those candidates for an increased role is Lightfoot, averaging 8.6 minutes after appearing in 14 minutes per game as a sophomore.
When this turbulent period is over, there’s a chance the Jayhawks could come out the other side a better team, Lightfoot believes.
"Yeah, it’s a rough situation, but we’ve got to handle it and we’ve got to become better for it. We’ve got to find a way to use it as either motivation or some kind of way to bring the team closer together,” Lightfoot said. “So we’re going to find a way. We’ve got to go through some stuff first obviously. We’ve been through some stuff, so it’s helping us get better and come closer, so I think we’ll be better off.
“I’d say that the most dangerous animal is the one that’s backed into a corner. Gotta use that as a motivation, like I said, and gotta come out on top.”
OKLAHOMA STATE AT NO. 13 KANSAS
Tipoff: 11 a.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Line: KU by 11½
TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Next: KU at TCU, 8 p.m. Monday, Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth, Texas
OKLAHOMA STATE (9-13, 2-7)
F Yor Anei;6-10;Fr.;7.4;4.6
F Cameron McGriff;6-7;Jr.;13.0;7.6
G Lindy Waters;6-6;Jr.;12.2;4.9
G Thomas Dziagwa;6-4;Jr.;10.6;2.6
G Isaac Likekele;6-4;Fr.;7.5;3.7*
NO. 13 KANSAS (17-6, 6-4 Big 12)
F Dedric Lawson;6-9;Jr.;19.4;10.8
F Mitch Lightfoot;6-8;Jr.;1.7;2.1
G Ochai Agbaji;6-5;Fr.;8.4;4.7
G Quentin Grimes;6-5;Fr.;8.0;2.3
G Devon Dotson;6-2;Fr.;11.2;3.5*
* — Assists