This was meant to be Jock Landale’s breakout year.
The Australian big man was starring in the EuroLeague with Lithuanian club Zalgiris Kaunas and aimed to help Ben Simmons and the Boomers to their first Olympic medal in Tokyo before making the NBA.
Instead Landale is in Melbourne pushing those lofty goals back indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Olympics are re-scheduled and when the next NBA season will be able to start remains up in the air.
There is potential that the EuroLeague will decide to play out its season. Zalgiris may still ask for Landale and their four or five US-based players to come back although nothing has been decided.
Name the virus hotspots in Europe and there is fair chance Landale has visited them in recent months as Zalgiris has played in Milan, Barcelona, Madrid and Saint Petersburg among others.
“Making the EuroLeague playoffs and winning the Lithuanian title – that’s what I was picturing myself doing in April,” Landale told The Age.
In early March the Zalgiris players met up to travel to Barcelona for a midweek EuroLeague game but they never got on the plane.
“We were sitting on the team bus and we get a text message saying, ‘Don’t get on the plane, we might be shutting down,'” Landale recalled.
That decision was announced on Friday night with Zalgiris, who were awarded the Lithuanian title, offering their foreign players the option to go home.
“Saturday morning I was on the flight back to Australia,” Landale said.
“I thought this thing would really take off. I picked right.”
Landale doesn’t like to think about what could have happened if his side had headed to Spain, where over 22,000 deaths have been recorded, then returned to Lithuania.
“I would have lost my mind, man. I would have been fully locked down,” he said.
Landale arrived home a day before mandatory quarantine was introduced for international arrivals but he self-quarantined for 14 days at his family farm.
The 24-year-old arrived at Zalgiris frustrated because he had narrowly missed out on making the NBA for this season but he quickly embraced his new club.
“You look at the Boomers against Team USA in front of 50,000 at Marvel Stadium – if Zalgiris had a 50,000 seat stadium I have no doubts we would fill it,” Landale exclaimed.
“It’s like playing for your own country every night.”
Playing EuroLeague and working with Zalgiris coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has made Landale a “perfectionist” and his 27-point performance in his last European game showed his progress.
“In terms of skills and understanding the game, I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds,” Landale said.
A number of NBA sides are still in contact although no one knows when NBA games may resume. If it doesn’t work out then Landale would happily spend next season with Zalgiris.
“I’m loyal to Zalgiris, so I’ll finish that out there. Then after that, I have full ambitions to play in the NBA,” Landale said.
“It’s only good options. If the NBA doesn’t work out then I’m so grateful to have another year with Zalgiris.”
Playing in the NBL next season is not on Landale’s radar unless he can’t travel overseas.
“If I can’t get back to Europe or America then there is the possibility, we might look at some way I could play in the NBL in the interim,” Landale said.
“I’m pretty locked into winning EuroLeague or making the NBA. I want to play in the NBL later in my career.”
Landale is determined to make use of the weeks and months to come.
“If you are smart in this time you can leap light years from your competition by looking after your body, getting in the weight room and getting skill work in,” Landale said.
“How often do you get a seven month off-season? I can’t stress enough how disappointed I was to miss the Olympics, at the same time it’s something that can be capitalised upon.”
by Roy Ward