In December 2020, former Melbourne United star and current San Antonio Spur, Jock Landale, made the bold prediction that his United outfit could go undefeated throughout the 2020-21 NBL season.
Just over a year later, Landale fronted up against the Los Angeles Clippers as the Spurs starting center. It was a night of firsts. His first NBA start, his first NBA double-double and his first NBA game in which he played over 25 minutes.
The game was the culmination of a lifetime of hard work for the 25-year-old, both physically and mentally, and it could serve as a sign of what’s to come for an NBA career still very much in its infancy.
In the past 12 months, Landale has become an NBL Champion with Melbourne United, an Olympic bronze medallist with the Australian Boomers and an NBA role player with the San Antonio Spurs.
However, if you were to go back 24 months, you would be met with a period in Landale’s life where his NBA dream was on the precipice of being over.
Landale has been outspoken about his past battles with mental health and last year became an advocate for headspace’s National Youth and Mental Health Foundation, raising over $12,000 for the organisation through his initiative #GivingRise. The initiative saw Landale donate $200 for every one of his dunks in the 2020/21 NBL season.
Landale’s former coach, Melbourne United’s Dean Vickerman, spoke on the NBA rookie’s personal growth throughout last season and his positive impact on the United locker-room.
“When we got him [Landale], and I don’t think it’s out of school to talk about, he was in some ways damaged goods,” Vickerman admitted.
“A big part of that was he’d gotten into a pretty dark place when he was in Lithuania.
“As a club, we showed him constant support. We encouraged him to talk to the group and express himself and talk about the growth he was having and the fun he was having playing basketball again.
“Allowing him to express his skills not only out on the floor but also emotionally – about the growth he was having off the court – was crucial to his success at the club.”
Landale’s outspoken nature was embraced by Melbourne United, and confidence became a big part of the teams identity en-route to its eventual championship.
However, Vickerman said there was some initial trepidation on his behalf.
“It was a massive statement for Jock to come and say so early on ‘I think we’re talented enough to go undefeated’. No one had ever done that in our team before,” he said.
“I actually had to question myself about how to best deal with his character but in the end, I thought: ‘we’ll just let it ride’.”
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On court Landale has had a significant impact in San Antonio despite limited opportunities.
Since first earning notable rotation minutes in Gregg Popovich’s squad in mid-December, Landale has slowly been earning his stripes in the NBA.
Having always been a threat on the block, Landale has established himself in San Antonio by showing off his three-point range and intangible hustle, consistently bringing a level of intensity which has quickly become beloved among Spurs fans.
Vickerman said he’s loved what the Australian has been able to do in limited minutes and believes his role will only grow.
He said, “I chatted with Jock early on when he wasn’t playing too much and the only thing you can kind of talk about at a time like that is being ready.
“He was like, ‘I’m so ready, I just want this opportunity’ and I think during the year with us, we allowed him to do all the things that he’s really good at, and now he’s translating that to the NBA.
“You hope that he can be a starting centre and he’s shown in his one start that he can be a double-double.
“We haven’t even talked about the defensive side of the ball; his activity, his willingness to switch on to guards if needed, you know, he does many things to impact the defensive end… and combined with the skill level he has on the block and ability to make three balls, I think he can have a great career as a starter in the NBA.”
It has been Landale’s ability to turn things around and stick to a plan that has consistently impressed his former coach the most.
The Olympic bronze medallist has proved and continues to prove that when faced with adversity, back against the wall, he finds a way to thrive.
Recalling Landale’s individual efforts in the playoffs against the South East Melbourne Phoenix last year, Vickerman said Landale’s refusal to lose was “incredible”.
“It was what he came here to do,” Vickerman said.
“That’s what I loved. Jock had a plan. He thought, ‘look, I’m coming to Melbourne to win a championship, then go win a medal in Japan and finally, make the NBA’. To tick all those things off is pretty incredible.”
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