Until recently, the best year of Jock Landale’s life was spent in the mountains. In 2010 he was a freshman at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, Australia—the same boarding school Prince Charles attended in 1966 and has referred to as “hell.” The outdoor education program at Mount Timbertop is a demanding boot camp and an opportunity for monk-like reflection. (Landale had to spend a few nights alone in the bush.) It’s certainly not a place for basketball. Instead of playing pickup, Landale was skiing, canoeing and rafting.
Landale started his days with a 10-kilometer run, and he fit coursework around chopping wood. His weekends consisted of multi-day hikes. Landale, who quit basketball at age 12 after a coach told him he had no future, would go three years without playing. But after his time in the mountains, he decided to give the sport another try. He admits he “stank” when he first started playing again, but he was able to make the Australian U-19 team in 2013 as a high school junior. Saint Mary’s, with a long history of importing talent from Down Under, noticed him in a scrimmage and offered a scholarship.
It took two full seasons for Landale to adjust to Division I hoops, but in 2016–17 he exploded, averaging 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. Now 6'11" and 255 pounds, he’s on the player-of-the-year short list, despite being a low-post, back-to-the-basket center in the era of high-flying unicorns. According to hoop-math.com, Landale takes 66.9% of his shots at the rim. By comparison, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III takes 54.8%; Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, 47.1%; Purdue’s Isaac Haas, 44.2%. Landale, who makes 67.4% of those attempts, is the only D-I player in the top 20 in scoring (21.5), rebounds (10.2) and field goal percentage (64.2). He ranks first in KenPom.com’s offensive usage rating (126.3) and in its POY ranking.
As the game has trended toward speedy, versatile wings and freakishly talented big men who can double as point guards, few teams run their offense through a big man, and even fewer run it with a center stationed on the block. “I don’t feel the pressure, but I do understand I have a responsibility in our offense to create for us,” says Landale, who uses 30.2% of his team’s possessions, the most of any big man on a ranked squad. (Neither Bagley nor Ayton is in the top 100.)
“If he’s [guarded] one-on-one straight up, he’s going to score or get them in foul trouble,” says Saint Mary’s coach, Randy Bennett. “People have to bring help, then we play off that. He makes other players better by how good he is in the post. He can pass out of there, he’s a play-maker. He’ll read the defense and he makes dang good decisions.”
The Gaels play at a super-slow pace, with a 63.9 adjusted tempo per 40 minutes, according to KenPom. The only ranked team slower is Virginia (page 38). But with the steady play of senior point guard Emmett Naar, who is second in the nation in assists (8.1), Saint Mary’s is also super efficient, averaging 121.0 points per 100 possessions, eighth in the country.
The largo tempo and throwback style has led to a banner season in Moraga. Despite late losses to Gonzaga and Portland, the Gaels won a school-record 19 straight games and finished the regular season 27–4. That record should be good enough to earn them an at-large bid should they fail to win the WCC tournament.
As for Landale, playing at both a plodding pace and for a mid-major makes him feel as if he’s in the shadow of stars like Bagley and Ayton. Landale has taken just seven threes this season, making two, after going 4 for 18 last year. Despite those numbers, he says he can do damage from the perimeter. “It would be a different look for our offense, but all my teammates told me it would probably work pretty well for us,” Landale says. (Says Bennett, “We’re not going to try and see how many different ways he can score.”)
Before coming to Saint Mary’s, Landale looked back on his time at Timbertop as the best of his life. The last two years have changed that. He’s almost certain to be named the first All-America in school history, and he hopes to lead the Gaels to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2010. Says Landale, “Just put me down on the block and let me go to work. I’m good with that.”