From a Jayhawk Mom’s Perspective

How sweet it is to watch our son’s compete in the sport they love!

As mother’s we are always proud, excited, and nervous at the same time. Some of us yell, some pray, some hide our eyes when the game is too close for comfort, while some of us sit quietly and clap when the team scores. We all have our individual ways to cheer on our sons in hope of a victory. As mothers of KU basketball players, we are fortunate to have had an impact on our sons and their development, while also being greatly impacted when they left home to play basketball at KU and mature into men.

Here are a few of their stories….

Devonte Graham was born 7lbs 9 oz on February 22, 1995. His mother, Dewanna, knew at a young age that he loved basketball, but his journey to KU was a little different than the norm. From Dewanna’s perspective – Our journey to KU was a little different than the normal route, but nonetheless, we’re glad it worked out in our favor! Devonte played both football and basketball until his 9th grade year when he signed his national letter of intent with Appalachian State early in the season after only on official visit. Devonte was able to lead his high school to the State Championship where they lost but his career had changed for the better. At that time he decided he no longer wanted to attend Appalachian State. He asked to be released from his contract (national letter of intent) but the request was denied! This drove us to explore other options. After I appealed the decision from the NCAA, and was still denied a release, we decided that Devonte would attend Prep school at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. This was the most difficult, confusing, and emotional time we had experienced. I cried on every visit home and back to school. We prayed things would work out, but not knowing how or when lead to a lot of sleepless nights! Finally, eight months later, Devonte was released by the new head coach Jim Fox, who took Jason Capel’s position at Appalachian State. Tears of joy flowed, as now we could move forward. We had about 30 days to make a decision on where Devonte would attend school and play ball. He had lead his prep team to a national championship and won! He had received plenty of interest from other universities, but wasn’t able to get offers or talk to coaches prior to his release. We were finally able to move past that and had narrowed out options to three schools – North Carolina State University, Kansas, and University of Virginia. Of course we chose KU and I cried like a baby when I had to make that trip to the airport to send him off to Kansas! From time to time I still get very emotional about having to leave, but I know that Devonte is happy here. Now my tears are more about me seeing my baby grow into a man. We’re just blessed and forever grateful for our journey to KU!

Mitch Lightfoot was born in Kansas and lived there until he was 5 years old. His mother, Rhonda, and father Matt, met while attending Oak Park High School. Rhonda is 6′ 3″ and went on to play basketball at Rockhurst College. From Rhonda’s perspective –  Mitch weighed 9 lbs 11 oz  and was 22 inches long at birth. In fact all three of our son’s were exactly the same weight! Since, I played basketball, I often challenged my son’s and will gladly say that I taught him his post moves while he was young. Mitch has always loved sports and has a mean, nasty side of him on the court. He played like a crazed animal during open gym with his younger brother Miles, who is now taller than Mitch (but we won’t talk about that). In high school, Mitch played football too, but his basketball coach eventually that he needed to choose one, so basketball it was. Mitch verbally committed to University of New Mexico early in his recruitment, but changed his mind during his junior year. When he told his AAU coach that he was going to open up his recruiting again, his coach asks what his goal was. Mitch said, “I want to go to KU.” Arizona State had also recruited him hard and tried to sell him on the fact that he could have a home cooked meal every night, since we lived close by. We told Mitch that he had to take all 5 official visits before he made a decision so he chose Stanford, Utah, Arizona, and St. John’s. St. John’s was a really fun visit because we got to bi in NYC. But, ultimately Mitch knew he wanted to play at KU. It was hard for us at first because we knew that we would not be able to attend many of his games. We do have family that live close to KU though, so they get to attend often. It was somewhat sad saying goodbye, as my first son went off to college, but a bit freeing too. I now only have two boys left at home. I was curious to see how Mitch would take care of himself on his own. I’m not sure how clean his room is, but he seems to be doing fine. We are a close family and we recently adopted a 4 year old daughter. Mitch misses being with family and fishing, but more than anything, he misses his truck – his red monster truck to be exact. We are going drive it out to Lawrence for him this summer, so watch out Lawrence, you’ll know when you see him driving down the road.

Clay Young is from Kansas. His mother, Teresa, grew up in a very small town. She played volleyball, basketball, track, and in the summer – fast pitch softball. Softball was her best sport and she was offered a scholarship to go to Baker University. Her senior year, they took 8th in the World Series for small colleges. Teresa is in the Baker University Hall of Fame! From Teresa’s perspective – Clay was born 9 lbs 7 oz, and had a ball in his hands as soon as he could hold it. He was an easy child, constantly playing and always doing well in school. He did not want to ever miss a thing, so he’d ask to attend school and compete in sports even when he was sick. In 1st grade, he played on the 4th grade league and was sometimes the high scorer. I knew then that he was talented. Clay played baseball, soccer, and a couple years of football until High School, when he focused on basketball. He played with a great group of boys in high school. Clay started on varsity all 4 years at Lansing High School. He went to the state tournament 3 years in a row. The team took 2nd place at state his Senior year. He always wanted what was best for the team. Making the team the best it can be is what motivates Clay to play hard. He would take on different roles if he thought it would help the team. When Clay first left for college, he attended a community college in Kansas City. He would come home to do laundry every week. It wasn’t so hard on us because we got to see him often. Will still get to see him often, even after transferring to KU. And now, we get to attend all of the KU basketball games! I am a very fortunate mother!

Tucker Vang is from Wichita, Kansas. He knew is wanted to attend KU, and he would do whatever it took to eventually make the Jayhawk Men’s Basketball Team! His mother, Tara, travels to Lawrence often to watch basketball games. From Tara’s perspective – Tucker weighed 8 lbs 13 oz, and was 22 inches long at birth. I knew he loved sports when, at age 2 1/2 he began dribbling the basketball up and down the grocery store isles while I shopped. Both of my boys have always only wanted to go outside and play ball. Tucker played football, baseball, basketball, and golf. Tucker decided he would go to KU, regardless of sports opportunities.I was sad, excited, scared, and proud all at once when Tucker left for KU. He tried out for the men’s basketball team his freshman year, but he didn’t make the team. He then joined every rec league he could, and eventually became a member of the women’s practice team (black squad) his sophomore year of college. During the summer before his junior year, he got a call from the KU men’s basketball coaches, asking him to join the team. I’ve always felt like he is self-motivated and very driven. He is his own worst critic and a bit of a perfectionist, so if he commits to doing something, he will do it to the best of his abilities!

Our newest member to the KU basketball team is Sam Cunliff, from Seattle, Washington. Sam’s mother Michele recently shared her perspective with me on raising Sam and helping along his journey to KU. Michele played sports in high school and Sam’s dad was a long jumper at Washington State University back when they had Olympic level athletes on their team. From Michele’s perspective – We should’ve know that Sam was destined to be a basketball player because from age 3-6, all he wanted to do was dunk on his mini plastic hoop while watching Michael Jordan-His Airness on video. I finally had to limit him to only two viewings a day to him outside.When Sam was 7 years old his dad just scooped him and his older sister Hannah up that Spring and dropped them off at a community club track team while I was tending to our new baby girl in the hospital. That Spring began our family’s complete and total involvement in track and field. It turned out, much to my husband’s delight, that Sam was absolutely flawless in the long jump. I remember how much I was dreading to have to get up so early the time Sam competed in the long jump, but when I say him soar through the air with this meticulous form, I was hooked! Sam seemed so happy with track and he even set a goal to get the world record in the long jump when he was 10, which he actually accomplished! His dad was his coach at the time and off to Flagstaff they went, returning as a world record holder with a jump of 16′ 10.75″. Organized basketball came into the picture around age 8 because we lived real close to a Boys and Girls Club. Track slowed down in the Fall and Winter. For a few more years, Sam only played on a team during the basketball season, but quickly figured out that other kids were playing year round. He found a really accomplished AAU team that practiced very close to home and that’s when he got the ‘basketball bug’.  By this time, Sam’s dad was having great success as a track coach and he was so excited about Sam’s future as a decathlete. Almost every night after all the kids were in bed, he would tell me that Sam would win an Olympic Gold medal someday. At first I would just roll over and whisper good night, but soon I cam to realize that my husband knew what he was talking about. He could see natural talent and he knew how to boost it into the stratosphere. Then, one of the most challenging days came before me….Sam came to me after one of his 3 hour basketball trainings and said, “Mom, I don’t want to long jump anymore. I want to play basketball year round.” If you could have seen my face, I’m sure it would have told you everything! Here I was stuck between the 2 men in my life; his dad who could take him to the Olympics and my son who had a visible driving passion for basketball. I just remember seeing my son’s face and feeling his anguish. Then the very next moment, I would be imagining the anguish that my husband would feel if Sam quit track. The big brown eyes staring at me with a sense of helplessness won me over though, and I told Sam, “If you are sure this is what you wanna do, we’re going to have to work together to get it done.” I convinced Sam to go out and get a gold medal at AAU Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa that summer to soften his dad up before we dropped the bomb. It worked. Sam got the gold and his dad agreed that Sam could follow his heart. It wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound, but you get the picture. As soon as we got in the door from Des Moines, Sam had a basketball trainer and a two year commission. His dad gave him 2 years to show him that he could go to college for free on a basketball scholarship. Sam did not disappoint. He worked so hard and so smart in those 2 years that we were sure Sam would achieve his dreams. The summer of his junior year was crazy with recruiting and we were so proud and happy for Sam. There is nothing like seeing kids accomplish their goals! Now, Sam is a transfer to KU from Arizona State University. Of course, we thought he would be so happy there, but it turned out otherwise. I can’t express how thankful we were to hear that KU was looking at Sam soon after his announcement to leave ASU. As parents, we were so happy with our quick recruiting trip to Kansas and so impressed with the staff. As his mom, I knew he would be well taken care of and would feel like he had a family away from his family that he loves so much. What is really unique about Sam, is his work ethic. He loves to set goals and reach them. Basketball is a sport that never plateaus and that is why it is so great for my son. I always knew that he just felt so at home in his gym shoes and a gym with a hoop. I told him at ASU, that he needed to get out and meet more people so that he could be happier. But he told me, “Mom, I’m happiest in the gym.” What could I say? It’s true. He loves getting better. He loves a challenge and that is why being a Jayhawk is the perfect fit for Sam! He has lots to accomplish and he’s met a coach and a program that needs him to step up. The only thing I don’t like about his move to KU is that I hardly hear from my only boy anymore. He’s growing up and he’s happy, and I know he’s working hard. If I could give any advice to parents out there that are embarking on the journey to greatness with their children, I would say this: As long as it’s their dream and not just yours, the heights you can go to together are limitless! We have so many memories together doing just that. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s NEVER been convenient, but it’s been well worth it! Rockchalk Jayhawk!

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