Jock Landale’s breakout season heightens hopes at St. Mary’s

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, team-building 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 low-post 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.

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