basketball Edit

Lucas hopes to erase pain of Elite Eight loss to Villanova

Landen Lucas is hoping for a much better ending this year
Landen Lucas is hoping for a much better ending this year

Before the start of the 2015-16 season, nobody really knew what to expect from Kansas big man Landen Lucas. Now, with his fifth and final season underway, the expectations couldn't be any higher for the native of Portland, Ore.

When Landen Lucas, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound power forward from Portland, Ore., found himself surrounded by a large contingent of reporters during media day at the University of Kansas last month, his smile, which rarely leaves his face, was a big as any in recent memory.

Having spent a majority of his career fighting for a leading role for one of the nation's top college basketball programs, Lucas, after a long battle, finally broke through last year.

In what can only be described as a breakout year, Lucas started 19 of the last 20 games of the season, only missing Senior Night.

When presented with the opportunity to play a significant role, Lucas, to his credit, held on tight and didn't let go. One of five Jayhawks named to the All-Big 12 Team (Honorable Mention), Lucas led Kansas in rebounding with a 6.8 average, which ranked seventh in the Big 12.

Furthermore, he averaged 5.8 points per contest and had four games of 13-plus points. He shot 64.3 percent from the field, which led the team, and was second on the team with 27 blocks. As a junior, Lucas led Kansas in rebounds 20 times and pulled down five or more boards in 24 contests.

For Kansas, Lucas certainly saved his best for the biggest and most important games of the season. He had nine games of 10-plus rebounds, including three in the NCAA Tournament: 12 against Connecticut (March 19), 11 against Maryland (March 24) and 12 against Villanova (26).

Coming out of West View High School in Portland, Ore., not many knew what to expect when Lucas signed on with Kansas. In fact, it's safe to say that, at one point, very few expected Lucas to play a significant role on a team expected to complete for the grandest prize in college basketball.

Still, despite all of his accomplishments last season, Lucas found himself talking about freshman phenom Josh Jackson when KU's media day kicked off last month.

"He hasn't gone through a schedule yet, so it's tough to go 40-0," said Landen Lucas when asked about the comments made by freshman Josh Jackson. "But, I mean, that's what every team should be thinking going into the season. We don't ever look at the schedule and take any game as a loss. We feel like we should win every single one. There's a lot of things that come into play with that, but we want to take it game-by-game.

"I understand that the ultimate goal would be to win every single one (game), but we need to focus on Indiana first and then Duke," he added. "Even the preseason ones are important. If we take it game-by-game and handle that, next think you know, we might look up and see our record and see that we have a chance. Right now, our focus is on that first game."

During his tenure at Kansas, Bill Self and never backed down from a challenge, and has never shied away from putting his team through a grueling non-conference schedule.

For Self and the Jayhawks, this year is absolutely no different.

Kansas will open up the season on Friday, November 11, against Indiana at the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Four days later, the Jayhawks will travel nearly 5,000 miles away to face No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Some other notable games, both non-conference and conference play, include Long Beach State, Stanford, Nebraska, Davidson, @ UNLV, @ Kentucky, @ Oklahoma, @ Iowa State, @ West Virginia, @ Kansas State, @ Texas Tech, @ Baylor, @ Texas, and @ Oklahoma State.

Looking to capture its 13th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, Kansas is coming off a season in which it ended the year 33-5 and lost to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks were so close to advancing to the Final Four, but came up short in the closing minutes against the Wildcats.

Not surprisingly, the loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight has left a bitter taste in the mouth of Lucas and his teammates. The goal, from the very beginning of last season, was making it to the Final Four and putting themselves in position to play for a national championship.

When you get so close to reaching that goal, only to see it slowly fade away and eventually disappear from sight, you're left to wonder why it all came crashing down the way it did? You're left with sleepless nights and so many questions that will forever remain unanswered.

Last year, the mission was clear. While the Jayhawks came up short, Self's squad is primed for another deep run. Yes, Wayne Selden, Jr., Cheick Diallo, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Hunter Mickelson are gone.

However, KU returns quite possibly the best backcourt in college basketball with Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham. Additionally, Lagerald Vick, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Carlton Bragg, Jr., and Lucas return, along with newcomers Josh Jackson, Dwight Coleby (transfer that sat out last year), Udoka Azubuike (freshman) and Mitch Lightfoot (freshman).

Kansas, without question, has more than enough talent, experience, athleticism and firepower to emerge as the last team standing on the first Monday in April.

Last year's loss to Villanova still stings, but with the first exhibition game of the season approaching, this year's Kansas team has its sights set on a new goal.

"We definitely do (think about Villanova game), just because it (season) was rolling so well and it was such a goal the whole year," said Lucas. "We were building up towards it, so to be right there and come up short, that was tough. You've also got to look at it like, 'You know, thank God I'm here for one more year.'

"I get one more crack at it," he added. "We learned so much from that (loss to Villanova) and we should be able to take that into this year and make it even better."