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When Jock Landale came down the mountain

From ESPN - February 9, 2018

MORAGA, Calif. -- Jock Landale always knew he would spend a year at Timbertop. His father went, his grandfather went, his great-grandfather went. It's a family tradition.

Nestled in the foothills of the Victorian Alps in southeast Australia, Timbertop is a campus of the prestigious Geelong Grammar School. A boarding school based in Melbourne, Geelong has been sending its ninth-grade students away to Timbertop since 1953. Students live in cabins, are cut off from most modern technology and challenged in ways not possible -- both physically and mentally -- through more traditional schooling methods. It counts Prince Charles as an alumnus.

The curriculum includes heavy doses of backcountry hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing and rogaining -- a sport involving long-distance, cross-country navigation. It's demanding. By the end of the year, students are expected to be able to complete what amounts to a 20.5-mile run, up and down a mountain.

"Some people say it's a boot camp," Landale said. "It's centered around positive education and whatnot. I guess, for me personally, it gave me an appreciation for when you actually return back to high school."

Throughout the year, students are required to spend several nights on their own in the bush, which is home to all sorts of wildlife, ranging from kangaroos to deer to snakes and everything in between. Wild dogs have been known to approach student campsites to steal food. The school handbook says those individual nights alone are designed to give students time for reflection and to consider their future aspirations.

It was there, in the Australian wilderness, where Landale realized he wanted his future to include basketball, beginning something that would take him 7,800 miles and an ocean away to Saint Mary's College in California. As a senior, Landale has developed into an All-America-caliber center on a team that, at No. 11 in the AP poll, has achieved its highest ranking in history.

Prior to leaving for Timbertop, however, Landale had not played basketball for about two years. Geelong offers basketball only for girls and encourages its students only to participate in sports it does offer. For Landale, that meant cricket, Australian rules football, shotput and swimming.

"My high school was not very supportive of my aspirations," Landale said. "They were not really too keen on me playing basketball.

"When I came back sophomore year, I told the school, 'You are not going to stop me this time. I am going to take taxis or whatever to go play [basketball].'"

Landale came home from Timbertop and told his parents he wanted to start playing basketball again and his father, Clive, arranged for him to have a session with a private coach he had worked with in the past.

"As you could imagine, his skills were a bit rusty after going a couple years without touching a ball," the elder Landale said. "Timbertop had a massive impact on him in terms of adjusting his desire to achieve and really want to put in the hard work to get somewhere. That was the key change.

"From that point on, Jock was single-minded about basketball and getting as far as he possible could."

Still, the idea that Landale, who stood about 6-foot-4 going into his sophomore year, could use basketball to receive a college scholarship in the United States would have been preposterous.

"His story is crazy because he was not on the radar," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Was not even on the radar in Australia."

A growth spurt put Landale closer to 7-feet and his skills grew more refined. With that, he started getting a hint of recruiting interest. He played on an Australian team that toured China with future Saint Mary's teammates Emmett Naar and worked out at a camp that was streamed online for college coaches in the United States to watch.

Saint Mary's has long maintained a deep connection to Australian basketball and while the team was there on a tour of its own, Bennett said he noticed Landale lingering after one of the games.

"I did not even meet him. I said, 'Who was that tall guy there after the game?'" Bennett said. "We did not know him, but got his name and followed up."

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