The backstory – on Coach Self’s Senior Night introduction of Landen…. Landen had not seriously considered playing basketball for KU because there was already a player similar to him who had verbally committed to KU. But when that player de-committed, Coach Townsend called Coach Ward (Landen’s AAU coach) to ask if Landen would be interested. It was already November, and we were taking our official visits, so we had to make a decision quick. KU wanted us to do an official visit that week because Landen, his dad, and I had never been to Kansas. So, we said yes and they scheduled the visit. We met with all the coaches, especially Coach Manning and Coach Self. Coach Townsend gave Richard and I a tour of the campus while Landen got to know the team. The first night I remember looking out the window of my room at The Oread and saying, “I feel like I can see South America from here.” I had never been to the Midwest and was surprised by how flat it is. The morning before we flew home, Coach Self, Coach Manning, Coach Dooley, and Coach Townsend took us to breakfast and asked Landen if he would be willing to sign his letter of intent. I had been pretty quiet and Coach Self said, “Shelley, you haven’t said much. How are you feeling about all this?” I told him that I felt nervous because we had spent years getting to know all the other coaches who had been recruiting Landen. I remember saying, “I don’t know any of you”. Coach Manning immediately said, “We will make it our job to get to know you now.” And the rest of the coaches confirmed that they would all do what’s needed to help us feel comfortable with them and the program. We thanked them for the visit and told them we needed to go home and discuss things. Landen had settled on going to Stanford, Cal, or Washington so that he could play in the Pac 10 and be a starter his freshman year. Therefore, this new offer by KU really shook things up. Landen had gotten to know other coaches so well that they’d become friends of ours. In fact Coach Romar, at UW, had played with Richard 20 years earlier and thought of Landen like a son. Telling them, “thank you for recruiting me, but I’ve chosen KU” was going to be difficult no matter how Landen said it. The next 24 hours were excruciating for him. He wanted to please everyone. He wanted to make the right choice. He wanted to be close enough for his mom and dad to go to the games. While discussing it with Landen, he told me that he had talked about it with his dad on the flight home from Kansas, and that he had decided to go to KU, but that he was afraid to say no to the other coaches/teams. I asked him why he wanted to go to Kansas. Landen said, “Mom, I will regret it someday if I don’t go and try to be my best on one of the best college teams in the nation.” That was all I needed to hear. He signed the letter of intent. And suddenly I knew I’d be spending more time in Kansas. Soon Coach Manning was on his way to watch Landen play in the Les Schwab Invitational. And Landen was fortunate enough to fly back out to Kansas for the final KU v. Mizzu game at Allen Field House! In June he graduated from high school and moved to Kansas.
on redshirting… Richard, Landen’s dad, came out to Kansas to watch Landen’s second game. Although Landen had 9 pts, 6 rbs, Richard called me after the game and said that he though Landen should redshirt and get 5 years out of this. We were not sure what Landen would think, but he was going to suggest it. They sat down with Coach Self and decided that it would be a good idea. Landen had begun the journey of trying to learn from Jeff Withey, then continued to learn and beat out the next big man recruited over him every single year. Of course I’m glad he took a red shirt year because now he has almost completed his MBA degree, for free!
on Toughness… Landen learned a lot about toughness while playing for Coach Self! One of the things Landen struggled with at times was mental toughness, not dwelling on the mistakes, and moving on quickly with a ‘next play’ mentality. But, when Coach introduced Landen on senior night he said, “I don’t think that we’ve ever recruited anyone brighter and although I have never told him this…. I don’t think we’ve ever recruited anyone tougher! I wouldn’t have thought when we recruited him, that we’d think ‘oh my God, if Landen gets two fouls in the first half, what are we gonna do?’ because he’s become that important to us.”
The Back Story – on Landen’s senior speech …. It’s true, I did tell Landen not to give a short speech just because it was going to be a late night. I told him to take all the time he needed because he would only have once to share his experience and thank the fans. Of course I would have loved to hear him use his Nihongo (Japanese), but we’ll just have to wait for that.
on faith… Landen grew up a Christian, but went through tough times like most teenagers. To motivate himself in high school, he would write his favorite bible verse on his basketball shoes – Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. As a mother, I was worried about Landen going off to college and not finding a way to stay connected to his faith. I prayed and prayed that he would have Christian coaches or a mentor who was a former player, someone in whom he could see himself. I was so blessed to meet Wayne Semien on our visit to KU. While in high school, a writer had compared Landen’s basketball abilities to that of Wayne’s, so I had heard his name, but never met him. Therefore, I introduced myself to him in the tunnel at Allen Field House, during half time at the game we attended on Landen’s official visit. Wayne share with me that he had a life-changing experience while attending school and playing basketball at KU. He told me that he had committed his life to Christ during college, and that after playing in the NBA, he and his wife had come back to Kansas to lead the campus ministry program “Called to Greatness”. That was it! Prayers answered! I knew in that moment that Wayne would be a good mentor for Landen. After a lot of ups and downs during his first couple years of college and basketball, Landen had a conversation with Wayne about being baptized and recommitting his life to Christ in the Fall of 2015, and Wayne baptized Landen at Morning Star Church Nov. 8th. What a blessed day, and a wonderful start to the 2015-16 basketball season!
on ‘swimming home from Korea’… Landen really has come to love and respect Coach Self. But, yes, it does feel like they’ve been to hell and back. For example, when the team was in Korea for the World University Games, Coach told Landen to ‘call your mom and tell her you’ll be swimming home’. I remember that I woke up early to watch one of the games from home in Portland and noticed that Landen was blatantly not trying. I mean he was giving nothing to the game, as if he didn’t care at all. I was so sad because I knew that Landen would never do that without feeling completely mad and discouraged. Landen did not perform well during the first half of the game. He’d shown his frustration and committed a technical foul. Coach was really mad at him during half time and told Landen to just leave, swim home because they didn’t want him there anymore. Thank God, he and coach worked it out because by the next game, Landen had changed his attitude and he was playing well again. There were certainly other times that Coach yelled during practice and even told Landen he would never start a game at KU except for Senior Night. This type of thing happened a lot, with all the players, but Landen took it seriously at first and didn’t quite know what to believe. During one of Landen’s difficult moments in the winter of his second year at KU, I spoke with an acquaintance and college basketball analyst, Jay Bilas, who told me that he really believed in Coach Self and what he would be able to do with Landen. He said that if Landen stayed at KU and worked hard, he would never regret it. I had my concerns though. I had already seen Landen dip into discouragement and depression more than once over those first couple years. But, Landen stuck with it. Every time he wanted to quit, he changed his focus, learned to motivate himself, and eventually he came to understand the level of toughness that coach really wanted him to have. I saw positive changes happening in Landen. I also believe that Coach Self was learning how to motivate him in a positive way. I think that they had to learn each other, and that Landen desperately needed to believe that nothing and no one could destroy his determination to be the best! He ultimately developed the mental toughness and incredible determination he needed to overcome adversity, stay focused, and do what was needed to “beat out the other ‘bigs’ over and over again,” as Coach says. And now, every time I see Jay, he reminds me of Landen’s toughness and says, “See, it paid off big time!”
on the KU fans… Kansas basketball has amazing fans! They love cheering for their team and they have an incredible ability to will the team into a comeback win! Watching a game at Allen Field House is an experience like no other. I feel so fortunate to have attended most of Landen’s games, and to be witness to so many wins. I couldn’t imagine how it must feel to be a player, on the court, listening to the cheers and the roar of the crowd. That is… until I had the privilege of walking Landen onto the court on senior night. Wow! What an exhilarating experience, standing in the middle of the court, listening to the applause of the fans. Landen has truly loved playing basketball for KU. And I have been truly blessed to be able to enjoy it. We have a great team with amazing determination and the will to win!
Now let’s go and get this 2017 National Championship! Landen Lucas Senior Night Speech