For a guy who didn’t really touch a basketball until he was 14 and didn’t really start watching the professional game until he was 18, Jock Landale certainly owns an accelerated learning curve.
Landale’s broken wrist in his early teens allowed doctors to discover that his growth plates indicated he would grow to nearly 7 feet tall. The dye was cast, and a basketball career was added to his life’s options.
The Phoenix Suns signed Landale in July, and expect to see the Australian big man contribute valuable minutes this season.
In the wake of a recent interview with Suns.com -- Landale was in Greece at the time -- an optimistic scouting report could be assembled:
- Mentally tough.
- Maximum effort guy with the requisite chip on his shoulder.
- Recognizes the areas he can improve upon in his game and continues to work on those elements.
- Improving shooter who fits the Suns system nicely.
- Great court vision and a willing defender.
Landale’s self-evaluation? “Kevin Love-type -- a smaller big who shoots the ball and rebounds hard.”
He also has a strong knowledge of how he’ll fit with the Suns, and an appreciation for the way one of the Suns’ top stars prioritizes winning.
He also referenced a plan to be visible, to drive business at Valley night spots by encouraging visits from “my mates.”
Carving a complex path to the NBA
Suns fans will be getting much more than meets the eye. Landale (6-11, 255 pounds), a former Saint Mary’s standout and West Coast Conference Player of the Year, is among the many talented Aussies to pass through the Gaels’ program under coach Randy Bennett in Moraga, California.
Landale, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova top the Saint Mary’s list, but a guy who played at the University of Utah is key to Landale’s basketball success.
Legendary Australian star Andrew Bogut is the first name Landale cites as his go-to mentor and favorite player.
Bogut played 14 seasons in the NBA, averaging a double-double from 2008-11 and leading the league in blocks during the 2010-11 campaign.
Landale, just after high school, attended Bogut’s basketball academy and the fire for basketball grew.
When it became clear Landale had the tools to play collegiately, the lack of big-time exposure limited his choices.
Saint Mary’s was “the only school who ever took me seriously,” Landale said, recounting a non-traditional recruitment experience.
The Gaels were on a tour of Australia, and the school had its eyes open for young talent.
Landale attended a game.
“I checked them out,” he said. “After the game I walked across the court” to say hello to a couple of Aussie friends.
Gaels coaches saw the big guy, and, to Landale’s translation, thought: “Who's this big, dopey thing walking across the court?
“Two weeks later they asked me to work out, so I lined up nine other mates -- all about five foot five and under.”
It was all Landale could muster for a workout in Geelong, Australia, after which Saint Mary’s staff reported back to Bennett.
Landale suggests the conversation went like this: “We think he’s good but it’s kind of hard to tell because he’s playing against a bunch of shorter players.”
Landale stood out, certainly, in that workout but Saint Mary’s needed a closer look.
A week later, he flew to Saint Mary’s. The self-effacing Landale admitted he was “fat” and “exhausted” in the workout, but his talent was undeniable, and they offered him a scholarship on the spot.
Landale learned more and more, improving each season and taking on a leadership role with the Gaels.
As an aside, Landale has said he learned to avoid old habits such as hanging out too much with old friends – times in which he doesn’t trust himself – along with diet and a relentless dedication to the weight room.
But bitter disappointment followed his senior season. Despite numerous honors and an NBA physique – or at least the obvious potential for improving what he already had – Landale went undrafted in 2018. “I was the only All-American not drafted; the only All-American not given a chance,” he said. “It was pretty shattering, like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
Enduring the Euro process
The tough times to come would help “make me a man,” Landale said, and provide valuable experiences that tested his resolve.
He played in Serbia and quickly found “I had a lot of growing up to do on the court. Going to Serbia, was a very important time but one of the hardest years of my life,” he said, citing “seclusion away from family.”
In 2019 he played in Lithuania before joining Australia’s National Basketball League in 2020.
Landale laments the lack of opportunity to play in the NBA. “I sacrificed money, opportunity … it was three years of hard work.”
But the trying times were about to end.
When Landale joined the Australian national team aiming for the Tokyo Olympics, he found Bogut to be a great leader – and a bit obnoxious. Bogut made picking up coffee one of Landale’s tasks for the team.
“Jock would always make sure he got the veterans our coffees – except for that one day,” Bogut said in a conversation with Landale on Bogut’s podcast, “Rogue Bogues,” referencing a disagreement with the temperature of the coffee Landale delivered.
On the podcast, Landale told Bogut he executed his duties properly.
“You said you wanted a lukewarm coffee and I did the job and then you kicked up a stink about it.”
After leading Melbourne United to the NBL title (and honored as the Grand Final MVP), Landale scored almost 13 points per game in Tokyo, helping Australia to the nation’s first Olympic medal – a bronze won just after a heartbreaking defeat against the US.
In that 97-78 loss to the US, Landale was one of three Aussies in double figures scoring (11), and he led the team with six rebounds.
A promising sign for Suns coach Monty Williams is Landale’s 39 percent shooting from 3-point range in his last year in the NBL.
Landale signed with the San Antonio Spurs during the Olympics, seeing this opportunity as one to be seized immediately and opting not to wait for more offers.
Not once, he said, did he feel out of his depth playing in NBA games last season, showing flashes of brilliance in limited minutes. He scored 26 points against the Indiana Pacers in March.
While the Spurs provided a foot in the door for Landale, the opportunity with the Suns could help establish a more consistent level of minutes.
Drawing strength from the myriad challenges along his professional path, Landale aims to be much more than a roster filler.
The great fit for the Phoenix Suns
He’s pleased to be joining the title-hungry Suns.
“They’re building toward something special and I’m really excited to be part of that,” he told NBL radio last month. “You can feel that buzz throughout the organization from the guys I’ve spoken to – that's what’s on their minds.”
Landale said winning championships is by far his No. 1 reason for playing the game.
“The big thing for me was I wanna get back to championship-level basketball, and I want to play to win,” he said.
Landale sees a similar profile in Suns star Devin Booker, who scored 20 points in that US-Australia matchup a year ago at the Olympics.
“When you first see this guy from afar, you’re kind of taken aback at his competitiveness,” Landale said, calling Booker’s game “daunting” and one that welcomes pressure.
"He’s an extraordinary player. You see it on a different scale in the NBA. He’s everything the organization makes him out to be …
“You wanna surround yourself with winners. It starts at the top with Chris Paul and Devin Booker.”
Time will tell how Landale fits among the Suns’ big men, including Deandre Ayton and Bismack Biyombo, but Landale is confident he’ll embrace the role he’s given.
“Doing the job required of me,” he said. “I’m not gonna break people down off the dribble.”
His strength, he said will be in pick and roll situations and feeding off teammates in the active offense employed by the Suns.
“That’s what's great about the Suns was these guys play such a winning level of basketball all around the court. Not just three guys … it’s a lot of them.”
As for his knowledge of Phoenix?
“All I know is it’s hot as balls out there,” he said after his recent stay in Paradise Valley. “It’s an insanely nice city. I’ve already got all my Aussie mates set to visit.”
Landale and his fiancé, India, are engaged to be married – with a target for the week after the 2024 Olympics.
Landale is an engaging Twitter follow, too. A recent reference of his to a drive from San Antonio to “San Fran” was subjected to a troll correction
(apparently, one does not refer to San Francisco as “San Fran”) from a follower: “It’s SF or the city,” the comment read.
“San Fran it is,” Landale responded with a pinched fingers emoji.
He’s an elite thinker, he knows how he plans to stay in the NBA and he’ll entertain Suns fans on and off the court.