Former Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year Mitch Lightfoot seriously considered accepting a scholarship offer from Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley.
“I thought he was a great coach, plays at a very high tempo, (which is) something I like. He’s a great dude,” Lightfoot, Kansas’ 6-foot-8, 210-pound sophomore power forward, said of the former Duke guard, whose third Sun Devil team is 8-0 and ranked No. 16 in the country heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. nonconference clash at No. 2 KU.
“Obviously he played at Duke with (Christian) Laettner. I was going to say (Bill) Lambeer,” Lightfoot added with a laugh. “He’s a player’s coach and that’s something I respect.”
Lightfoot, who moved from his birthplace of Kansas City to Arizona when he was 5 years old, ultimately decided on playing for another former college guard, former Oklahoma State starter Bill Self, at KU.
Self has KU off to a 7-1 start in 2017-18, while Hurley’s Arizona State squad is also riding high after Friday night’s 82-70 victory over St. John’s in Los Angeles.
“They are a top-25 team. Obviously they are doing something right,” Lightfoot said of the Sun Devils. “They score the ball well, have quick guards, can shoot it and have some big guys inside.”
The Sun Devils, who are the second Pac-12 team to face KU in as many outings — Washington downed the Jayhawks 74-65 on Wednesday at the Sprint Center — average 91.4 points a game to KU’s 88.5. Arizona State ranks seventh in the country in scoring, while KU is 17th.
Both teams have five players who average double digits in points.
“They will get up and down. They can definitely score,” Self said. “K-State can really guard. They (the Sun Devils) hung 92 (points) on them. Xavier is good; they hung 100 on them. They are very good offensively, a lot like us.”
Arizona State knocked off Kansas State 92-90 and Xavier 102-86 at the Las Vegas Invitational. The Sun Devils’ other wins are against St. John’s, Idaho State (94-74), San Diego State (90-68), Northern Arizona (97-62), UC Irvine (99-78) and San Francisco (75-57).
“They have probably got a little more firepower inside than we do,” Self said. “A vast majority of their scoring is from the perimeter.”
Tra Holder, a 6-1 senior point guard, scored 40 points in the win over then-No. 15 Xavier. It was the most points ever scored by a Sun Devil player against a ranked team. For the year, Holder averages a team-leading 20.3 points per game.
The Sun Devils also have Shannon Evans, a 6-1 senior guard (18.6 points per game); Romello White, a 6-8 freshman forward (16.6); Kodi Justice, a 6-5 senior guard (15.0); and De’Quon Lake, a 6-10 junior forward (10.4).
“We need to play good defense. They score really easy,” KU senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk said. “They have good players. Their point guard is really fast. We’ve got to help each other play better defense overall, move our feet quicker, be in the right position on the defensive end.”
Mykhailiuk knows one of the Sun Devil players personally. Starter Vitaliy Shibel, a 6-9 freshman from Ukraine, averages 3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds a game.
“I’ve known him for a while. We played on the same national team. He’s a good player,” Mykhailiuik said.
Another Jayhawk is friends with several Sun Devils. Sam Cunliffe transferred to KU from Arizona State after the first semester last season. Cunliffe, as it turns out, will be eligible one game from now — the Nebraska game on Dec. 16.
“We’ve been talking to him. He knows everything about their personnel, what they like to do and don’t like to do,” Mykhailiuk said.
Asked if Cunliffe’s knowledge of Arizona State can help KU, Mykhailiuk said: “Definitely. If he is going to tell us some stuff what players like to do, it’s definitely an advantage to our defense.”
Self said, “I haven’t really cornered Sam and hit him up about that, or Mitch. Mitch knows a lot of their guys, too. Sam knows more, obviously.”
Meanwhile, former KU forward Carlton Bragg can also fill in his new Sun Devil teammates on some of the Jayhawks’ tendencies. However, Bragg, who transferred to Arizona State from KU after last season, is not expected to make the trip to Lawrence since he cannot play in games until the start of the 2018-19 season.
Sunday’s 1 p.m. start conceivably could favor KU after Arizona State played Friday night in Los Angeles.
“I’d think they’d be jacked and ready to play,” Self said “It’s an early start. It’s 1 o’clock for us, which means 11 a.m. for them (actually noon with a one-hour time difference). I wish we could have played at 10 a.m. That would be an 8 o’clock (actually 9) start for them. Maybe that would be something that’d help us a little bit.”
Arizona State saw an 18-point lead dip to one with 2:41 left, then closed on an 11-0 run to defeat St. John’s in Friday’s Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
Hurley was asked about the upcoming game at KU after that victory.
“Just with them coming off the loss to Washington, I know they’ve had some really stiff, tough practices and I know coach (Bill) Self has motivated them,’’ Hurley told the Arizona Republic. “And then you have Allen (Fieldhouse) and the advantage that that building is, it’s going to be something for our players to experience.”
Energy is key for KU, the Jayhawks say. Self was not pleased with the effort Wednesday against Washington.
“They key to our team is going 110 miles per hour the whole time. That’s what we’ve got to do to be good,” Lightfoot said.