Gaels’ Landale reaches peak far from Aussie mountains
As a high school freshman, while other future college basketball standouts sharpened their skills in gyms and organized games, Jock Landale played pickup ball on a small dirt halfcourt with a tattered backboard and no net.
Landale’s high school in his native Australia required ninth-graders to spend the year in the mountains, teambuilding and learning outdoors survival skills. He wasn’t wild about the long hikes and steep climbs, nor was he especially thrilled with the primitive basketball conditions.
“It was pretty messy,” Landale said. “We were slipping and sliding around, and some days it would be raining and muddy. We’d just muck around, but it was a bit of fun.”
Landale can laugh about the memory now, amid his breakout season at St. Mary’s. He’s a major reason the Gaels take a 15-1 record and No. 21 national ranking into Saturday night’s WCC showdown against No. 5 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.
Landale, a 6-foot-11 junior, leads St. Mary’s in scoring (17.8 points per game) and rebounding (9.7). He also leads the WCC and ranks eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage, at 64.2 percent.
But numbers alone do not convey Landale’s impact. Consider last week’s victory over BYU, when he engaged Cougars center Eric Mika in an old-school duel of slick footwork and clever lowpost moves.
Landale scored on jump hooks, layups in traffic and mid-range jumpers (26 points in all). He went left and went right. He used both hands. He snagged nine rebounds and collected a career-high six assists by deftly passing when BYU double-teamed him.
St. Mary’s players really weren’t surprised, because Landale has been rolling ever since he tossed in 33 points at Nevada in the season opener – and the first start of his college career – on Nov. 11.
“He’s been a stud this year,” teammate Joe Rahon said.
Six years ago, Landale did not seem like a Division I stud-in-the-making. He began playing basketball at age 7 but became disenchanted and gave it up for two years before vanishing into the Victorian Alps with his classmates from Geelong Grammar School in Corio, Victoria.
They lived in cabins, cut their own wood for heat and lived without cell phones and computers. Imagine that. Landale had traditional classes four or five days a week, then wandered outside for another kind of education.
This included meandering hikes and at least one exhausting ascent up Mount Buller, at an elevation of more than 5,900 feet. Landale recalled crawling on hands and knees for stretches up the mountain’s steep face.
“It was crazy,” he said. “My high school tries to teach being dependent on a team, so we do a lot of team-building. … It basically teaches you to be independent and not need things that make life easier in the real world. But it was hard.”
Landale was 5-feet-11 at the start of his freshman year in high school, but he soon enjoyed some “ridiculous” growth spurts, as he put it. This added size, and those casual games on the dirt court, convinced him to give basketball another whirl.
He eventually became a legitimate college prospect, mostly because he reached nearly 7 feet tall. But that didn’t translate to immediate success in the U.S., as Landale learned during his freshman season at St. Mary’s. He averaged only five minutes per game in his first year, and as a sophomore was a key reserve but never cracked the starting lineup.
More than anything, Landale needed to shed weight and become stronger. He showed up in Moraga at 280 pounds in 2014 (with little muscle), but now he weighs about 248 — thanks to rigorous workouts and a reshaped diet heavy on protein and vegetables.
“His commitment to his diet was insane,” Rahon said. “I couldn’t do it. He was trying to knock out pasta, no bread, limited carbs. His discipline and commitment was really impressive.”
Landale also worked on his game with renewed vigor last summer alongside teammate Dane Pineau, a fellow Australian, and former St. Mary’s big men Brad Waldow and Omar Samhan. They and associate head coach Marty Clarke helped Landale develop his assortment of shots around the basket.
Still, head coach Randy Bennett traces Landale’s dramatic improvement this season mostly to his physical transformation. He’s a better athlete, plain and simple — stronger and quicker, with more endurance.
“He can play more possessions without fatigue being a factor,” Bennett said. “Where I see it the most is defensively; he’s doing a better job of keeping guys in front of him.
“That’s the reason we told him he needed to do this, so he could guard guys for longer periods of time. The byproduct is he’s also getting better offensively.”
As a result, Landale now finds himself as a fixture in the starting lineup. Pineau’s back injury created a vacancy for the opener, and Landale has played too well to displace. Pineau is averaging about 20 minutes per game off the bench.
In an era of polished high school players making an instant impact in college, Landale counts as an aberration. He needed time to reshape his body and his game, and now he’s a key cog on one of the nation’s top 25 teams.
Suddenly, the Gaels are more than happy to drop the ball into the low post and let Landale go to work.
“We had the same team coming back — but with how much better he’s gotten, we’ve kind of shifted our identity a little bit,” Rahon said. “Jock has been able to come in and make a huge impact on a team that returned everybody.”
Jock Landale of St. Mary’s goes to the basket against BYU’s Yoeli Childs. Landale leads the Gaels in scoring and rebounding in his first year as a starter.
Jock Landale shoots against San Diego forward Frank Ryder. At 6-foot-11, Landale has grown a foot since he was a ninth-grader in Australia.