Lufile finds healthy way to more playing time

Wichita State's Chadrack Lufile takes the ball to an Indiana State defender. The Shockers beat Indiana State 82-69 on Jan. 18.
Wichita State's Chadrack Lufile takes the ball to an Indiana State defender. The Shockers beat Indiana State 82-69 on Jan. 18. The Wichita Eagle

It looks so simple out there, a big, strong basketball player doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

Wichita State senior forward Chadrack Lufile grabs rebounds. He plays defense. At 6-foot-9, he scores most of his points around the basket, in a constant battle with the other team’s big men.

And the attitude that goes with all of it? Pretty much seals the deal.

“I swear whenever I get just one bucket, I feel like I’m unstoppable,” Lufile said. “And it feeds my defense. My teammates know, every time I get on the court, I don’t even want to let my man touch my ball. That’s my mindset.”

His teammates know a lot more about him than that. Mainly, they know what Lufile did in the offseason and what he does in practice to get ready to take the court for the Shockers. And they appreciate it, because they knew to get to this point for Lufile was anything but simple.

The Coffeyville Community College product averaged 1.6 points and 1.8 rebounds last season during Wichita State’s run to the Final Four — a seldom-used role player who didn’t see the court in the six games leading up to the NCAA Tournament.

This year has been much, much different. Lufile averages 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, which is second on the team behind Cleanthony Early’s 5.9. He’s also tied for second in blocks with Darius Carter and Early at 27. Lufile also averages 16.6 minutes and has started 11 of 34 games for No. 2 WSU (34-0), the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional.

The Shockers play the winner of Wednesday’s game between Cal Poly and Texas Southern on Friday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

“I took the challenge upon myself,” Lufile said. “To learn from last year and get more out of myself this year.”

That started with his weight. Lufile was at 287 pounds when the Shockers started summer workouts and was told by the WSU coaches he needed to drop weight. He began to eliminate certain foods and sugary drinks from his diet and replaced them with healthier substitutes. He began running in the mornings — stairs and track workouts when he could, but also the treadmill.

“He started to cut out the junk, not as much fast food, more cooked meals, making healthier decisions when he went out to eat,” said WSU guard Nick Wiggins, who lives with Lufile. “We both used to eat a lot of McDonald’s, but we cut down on that. I definitely think the team is happy for him, for all the success he’s had this season. He’s said he feels a lot more mobile, he’s said how much better his lower body feels.”

Lufile’s new conditioning regime and weight loss — he got down to around 255 at one point, he estimates, and the Shocker media guide lists him at 266 — began to show immediate impact on the court.

“Helped me elevate my game,” Lufile said. “I’m lower on defense, I’m faster, I’m better at moving my feet ... I don’t get as tired out there. I don’t really put my fist up in the game (to come out), Coach can just take me out or put me in and I’m ready to go.”

Not that it’s affected his strength, either. His physique has taken on a different look — leaner, more cut-up — but the power still exists.

“I’ve heard him say that about himself, that he was a different player last year,” said Carter, in his first year with the Shockers after transferring from Vincennes College. “He’s a really big, strong physical guy that’s tough to guard and box out ... he’s solid. He’s also a hard worker and he makes quick improvements, that’s what I love about him. It’s helped me along the way, just getting to practice against him.”

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