University of Kansas

"The pie is big enough for everybody:" Mitch Lightfoot tutors player who took his spot

From his spot on the bench, Mitch Lightfoot watched as Silvio De Sousa, just 19 and three months removed from high school, played the crunch-time minutes for Kansas in victories over Clemson and Duke last week in the NCAA Tournament.

De Sousa has been under the tutelage of Lightfoot since arriving at KU in January and the protege has progressed so quickly that he surpassed Lightfoot in the pecking order for big-man depth behind starter Udoka Azubuike.

After averaging 15 minutes per game in the first 20 games with De Sousa, Lightfoot played two minutes against Clemson and none against Duke. Meanwhile, De Sousa played a combined 39 minutes and scored nine points against Clemson and grabbed 10 rebounds against Duke.

But none of that matters to Lightfoot because KU (31-7) will play Villanova (34-4) in the Final Four on Saturday at approximately 7:49 p.m. in San Antonio.

"The basketball gods will work it out," Lightfoot said. "I just have to have faith and believe that if we're winning, everybody's happy."

Lightfoot's sacrifice hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

"That's big time by Mitch," KU assistant Kurtis Townsend said. "I think that's just the culture that Coach (Self) has created here. They know the pie is big enough for everybody. Everybody has the same goal and we're trying to win. And Mitch is just a great kid, so he's been able to do that."

To win on Saturday, De Sousa will likely be needed again in relief of Azubuike to match up against Villanova's versatile bigs in Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman.

While the skill set is there and potential is still untapped, De Sousa wouldn't be ready to contribute with the stakes so high without the help of Lightfoot to better understand Self's system.

"Mitch has been a big part of my learning process," De Sousa said. "Whenever I'm confused about something, he's the one I ask and he's the one who helps me. Sometimes he explains to me where I need to be. It's a big help to me."

Both players average just under four points and a little more than three rebounds, but De Sousa does so in five fewer minutes. De Sousa's per-40 averages are 17.5 points and 16.2 rebounds, while Lightfoot averages 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds.

Of course there is a side of Lightfoot who wants to be on the court and prove himself able for the job, but that is overwhelmed by his desire to help KU win in whatever way possible.

Even if it means helping the player who will jump him on the depth chart.

"I know (De Sousa) is a great talent and if he's playing great, our team has a better opportunity to win," Lightfoot said.

"You can't complain. There's only 53 Division I basketball players still playing. To be one of them is a cool experience."