Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Years in Japan shape KU forward Landen Lucas’ outlook

Landen Lucas, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward from Portland, Oregon, is one of seven scholarship freshmen on this year's KU team.

Landen Lucas, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward from Portland, Oregon, is one of seven scholarship freshmen on this year's KU team.


Like most up-and-coming high school basketball players, Landen Lucas spent the past few years dreaming of playing at a big-time college and, eventually, in the NBA.

However, long before visions of venues like Allen Fieldhouse filled his slumbering head, Lucas’ dreams actually played out in Japanese.

Lucas, one of six true freshmen on this year’s Kansas University men’s basketball roster, was born in Tokyo, lived the first three years of his life in the Land of the Rising Sun and, later, spent most of his sixth- and seventh-grade years mastering the first language he learned while living in Fukui, a city of more than 800,000 people southwest of Tokyo.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs,” said Lucas, a 6-foot-10, 235-pounder out of Portland’s Westview High School. “You have times where you’re just homesick or at school you don’t understand half of what they’re saying, but I eventually just had to adapt and get the hang of it. And what that helps me with is stuff like here. You start feeling homesick or something, well this is not even close to being in a different country. I’m only in a different state.”

The idea of exposing Lucas to the country in which he was born belonged to Lucas’ mother, Shelly. Her flexible job and worldly perspective led to the idea that taking her son back to Japan would open opportunities unavailable to most boys growing up in America.

“It was a last-second decision, pretty much,” Lucas said. “We sold everything we owned and when we went over there we didn’t know how long we were gonna be there. She took me to some small town in southern Japan where they didn’t speak any English. She put me in school there and I had to become fully fluent.”

It worked so well that the young Lucas often spoke on his mother’s behalf during job interviews.

“I had to translate for her when we went over the second time,” he said. “That’s when I was really fluent. Any kind of translation she needed, I was there for her.”

Living on the other side of the world enabled Lucas to grow up at a different rate and in a different way than his American friends. But even half a world away, he still had basketball. The game was a little different over there, but not necessarily in a bad way.

“Whenever they commit to something, they commit to something 100 percent,” Lucas said. “We would have practices that sometimes would last all weekend long. We would have breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes sleep in the gym.”

Although the intense practice regimen was new to Lucas, the game itself was not that different. A pick and roll was still a pick and roll, a good jump shot was still a good jump shot and a guy who was willing to work the way Lucas was always found a place on any team.

That work ethic was something he picked up from his dad, Richard, who played basketball professionally in Japan and knew enough of the language, Lucas said, “to be in the huddle of the game, understand what they were saying and order something at McDonald’s.”

“I talk to my dad after every practice,” Lucas said. “He’s been through everything. Maybe not as high of a level, but he played at Oregon, he was a coach after that and he’s been through it all. He enjoyed doing the things people don’t enjoy doing. The great thing about that is, at every level, no matter what, you’re always going to find a spot for yourself if you play like that.”

Practices have taken on extra importance for Lucas this school year. As a red-shirt he won’t be playing in any games and will have four years of eligibility remaining starting next season. Even though he won’t have a direct impact on his team’s record this season, Lucas’ teammates already have been and continue to be impressed by his work ethic and drive.

“There’s always somebody who breaks down during Boot Camp, and everybody predicted it was gonna be him,” said sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe. “But if you would’ve seen him at Boot Camp, you would’ve thought he could run with the guards. The shape he’s put himself in is just ridiculous.”

His teammates say Lucas’ best attributes stretch beyond basketball.

“He’s a real mature guy. You can tell he’s cultured,” said freshman guard Evan Manning, who admitted to pushing for Lucas to speak Japanese at random moments. “He hates it. It puts him on the spot.”

Added sophomore guard Christian Garrett: “I think I’ve heard him say a Japanese word or two, but I should ask him to say more. I have no idea what he was saying. He was just talking once about Japan and a word slipped in there.”

As the years have gone by and Lucas’ childhood memories of life in Japan — not to mention the language itself — have begun to fade, the 6-foot-10 power forward has leaned on his past experiences to handle anything life throws at him, be it at school, in his social life or on the basketball court.

“It helps with so much,” he said. “Just trying to adapt to situations. I’ve gone through so many life experiences.”

Lucas plans to incorporate Japanese into his class load at KU, perhaps even double-majoring so the first language he learned will continue to be a part of him forever.

“When I was younger, I used to dream in Japanese,” Lucas said. “Now that it’s totally the opposite, it’s fading away, but we’re trying to do our best to at least keep the communication part down because you never know where that could take you. It got me here.”


KansasComet 1 year, 3 months ago

I think this young man will be a factor by his sophomore year. Two years in the program will do this young man just fine.


bradynsdad 1 year, 3 months ago

Not only is this a good kid but he posted on twitter pics of him and his mom buying McDonalds late tonight and handing them out to the less fortunate. It's kids like this that really make your program proud.


midwest_muser 1 year, 3 months ago

Here's hoping Zach Peters is having a happy and healthy Christmas.


Alohahawk 1 year, 3 months ago

University of Kansas Jayhawks - Ichiban!

Bill Self - Ichiban!

Landen Lucas - Ichiban!

Ichiban - Japanese for Number 1.

Merry Christmas - Don't know if it can be said, or if so, how to say it in Japanese. But in Hawaiian - Mele Kalikimaka!


Eliott Reeder 1 year, 3 months ago

Nihongo ga honto ni sugoku muzukashi desu ne!! Watashi mo nannenkan mo nihon ni sundeimashta kedo yonnenkan gurai zen zen nihongo benkyou shinakatta no de daitai wasureta. Landen kun gambare!!!


Jack Jones 1 year, 3 months ago

Not only do we have a classy academic, as well as athletic, institution and program to be proud of as supporters and fans, we are also fortunate for the press coverage that allows us to get to know players like Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas, and others. In doing so, we can not only appreciate their athletic ability and accomplishments, but of even greater importance, know them as individuals, and celebrate their journeys on the way to Kansas University, and becoming part of the incredible Jayhawk family.


Robert Murphy 1 year, 3 months ago

I see Lucas becoming a super star at Kansas. In fact, I won't settle for anything less.


texashawk10 1 year, 3 months ago

Merry Christmas from Texas y'all!


Eric Bernauer 1 year, 3 months ago

Uh..., mop up duty? Of course I haven't seen practices, but I expect a great more from Landen than mop up duty. I was very impressed with young Mr. Lucas when he played in the exhibition games. I recall a bunch of rebounds and smart decisions with the ball in limited playing time.


Tony Bandle 1 year, 3 months ago

Matt, thanks for reminding me we've got a big guy being mentored in the wings for next year. I am sure a year of scrimmaging Jeff and Jamari everyday can't hurt his growth and development.

The big question good is Landen with a pair of chopsticks!!

Merry Christmas to all you fellow posters of Jayhawk Nation, but especially my comrades in arms Jaybate, Ralster, HEM, BigManU, ParisHawk, REHawk, ahperse and, wherever you are and I hope it's eternally blissful, 100.


William Blake 1 year, 3 months ago

Great job, Matt! I had a feeling early on that Landen would bring special qualities with him to this team and your article backs that up. Landen's future on this team will be more than mop-up minutes. His work ethic, intelligence and social skills point him into a leadership role in future years. He may just surprise some fans with his playing ability, too!


REHawk 1 year, 3 months ago

These personal vignettes are terrific for plugging Jayhawk hoops fans into the personal lives of the players whom they watch and support. What a variety of cultural backgrounds Bill Self has recruited to Lawrence! That said, I wish the best for all of them during Christmas break; esp. Ben and Jamari who are involved with the sensitive reality of incarcerated family members. Here's hoping that all our players travel safely and return to their KU "family" rejuvenated and prepared to swoop into some upcoming tough contests. Pundits and sportscasters have begun once again to see and proclaim the Final Four possibilities of another Bill Self basketball squad. Bill and staff have reloaded with some terrific players, on and off the court.


minnhawk84 1 year, 3 months ago

One last time, it doesn't matter WHERE you are born. What matters is that at least ONE of your parents is an American citizen. That is the minimum qualifer. McCain was born in Panama, but at least one of his parents was an American (but both actually were).


DDDHawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Keep up the good work, Landen!


AsadZ 1 year, 3 months ago

Mr Lucas,

I am very proud of you. It is really neat to hear about your upbringing in Japan. I am sure the experience of growing up in a country like Japan is so unique and has taught you so many things that other people do not get to experience.

By red shirting this year, you have made a very sound decision. I am sure that it was not an easy decision, as like every young player, you want to live your dream and want to be on the field right now. However you have realized that given the current situation and your personal development, red shirting this year is in your best interest down the road.

By reading your comments, I can conclude that you are a very intelligent and polished young man. I am sure that with your continued hard work on the court and in the gym with Ms Hudy, and by being a good student of the game learning from Coach Self and other KU coaching staff, you will have a great college and an extremely rewarding Pro basketball career.

Rock Chalk Mr. Lucas.


Adam Gerval 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm also studying Japanese at KU, and I see Landen Lucas every once in a while around the department. He's really good at Japanese, which is a very difficult language. I think that it's great that one of our players is challenging himself.


Scott MacWilliams 1 year, 3 months ago

I am constantly impressed by the quality of young men coming into this team!! How does Coach Self find these most excellent kids to take the plunge and become Jayhawks???
Young Mr. Traylor has really been through the wringer, found his strength and his way to KU. Ben Mc has his share of troubles to sort out with his extended family, and has made himself into a budding star.
And now we learn the back story of another star in the making in another kid who has been through a very different kind of transformative experience. Three guys from wildly divergent backgrounds who are now all on the road to bright futures here at KU.

Makes me think of a bit I read yesterday on the ESPN website about the highly touted Shabazz Muhammad at UCLA. He reportedly has a personal trainer to help him get in shape, RIGHT NOW, in the middle of the season, since he got delayed for whatever reason this year. A personal trainer!!! What???

We are so blessed to have such a great organization to help these young Jayhawks grow into their fullest potential and make us all proud in the process.

Merry Christmas, Jayhawks everywhere!!!

And a Hawky New Year to all!!


yovoy 1 year, 3 months ago

Maybe fore the first time, I'm going to admit that I thought the same thing as ahpersecoachingexperience. I wasn't necessarily thinking of KSU, but it did cross my mind that he better never run for President.

Thanks for rebounding that shot, ahperse. Thanks for kicking it back out and giving me another chance to shoot it.


Woody Cragg 1 year, 3 months ago

Mushi, mushi Hia, Hai. I've a n extremely close nephew & niece that were both born in Tokyo Got a Christmas card from her today & the photo on the card was taken in Sept the day before her SEAL husband was re-deployed to Afghanistan.These kids are tremendously intelligent, mature, & overly well versed in the ways of the entire worlld. Their father was career military & they've lived all over the planet. Something about this young man (Lucas) had me liking him from the moment I laid eyes on him. Maybe the confident handsome smile, the body language, maybe just Karma, I don't know. But he should be an exemplary individual for the Jayhawks program. Even if he only gets in at mop up time I'll still be pulling for him. I never heard a whimper from him abot the redshirt. It sure didn't do Travis any harm. Thanks for being a great young example for all future Jayhawks.


billboy89 1 year, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


ahpersecoachingexperience 1 year, 4 months ago

Oh gawd. When we play kstate the "Birthers" are going to have a hay day with him


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