After a mad dash home, Landale's NBA dream still very much alive

Jock Landale is safe at home, working on the family farm in Deniliquin, New South Wales -- more than 15,000 kilometres away from his professional basketball base in Lithuania, having endured a confusing, uncertain and anxious fortnight as a professional athlete abroad.

With the dire COVID-19 pandemic in Europe rapidly evolving, Landale and his Zalgiris teammates were scheduled to travel to Spain for a EuroLeague meeting with FC Barcelona on March 13.

"It was kind of business as usual -- we were hearing things, games [were] constantly moving and people [were] saying we might have to postpone, and there was a lot of chatter about things maybe going south, but nobody seemed to be acting on anything," Landale told ESPN.

Like much of the sporting world, the tipping point came with the news that Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive to the coronavirus, with the NBA initiating an immediate hiatus in response.

News quickly filtered through that the EuroLeague season had also been suspended, but Landale and other international athletes would once again be put in limbo, awaiting an official announcement from the Lithuanian domestic league.

"At the time, I was getting super anxious about not being able to come home to Australia," Landale said. "I've got family members who are at risk here, and I wanted to get back and see them, and that's my No. 1 priority no matter where I am -- [my] family's health and wellbeing is always in the back of my head."

With confirmation filtering through that players would indeed be free to return home, Landale was immediately out.

"All my teammates asked whether we were staying and waiting for the season, and I was the first one to put my hand up and say, 'Nah fellas, I'm getting out of here, sorry, but I want to go be with my family,'" Landale said.

"I was super anxious, I was even uncomfortable about flying around; even though we are lucky enough to be on charter flights, we still have to go through main airports, which were still packed in Europe at the time, so it was pretty wild getting out of there."

The unexpected hiatus brings a temporary close to what has been a challenging but career-defining 12 months for Landale.

An impressive Summer League campaign with the Milwaukee Bucks led directly into a key role with the Australian Boomers at the FIBA World Cup, fuelling internal and external belief that an NBA deal was on the precipice. That never came, however, leading him to continue his career in Lithuania.

After a whirlwind period, there has finally been some time to reflect. The 24-year-old has grown overwhelmingly grateful for his time in Zalgiris, which, by self-admission, was not always the case.

"Everybody knows I had really high expectations that I would make the NBA that season even though I had signed with Zalgiris," Landale said. "After getting out to Zalgiris, there was an initial stage where I thought that it was going to be a real tough year.

"I wasn't looking for a pity party, but I was definitely a bit frustrated, and I think they knew that, as well. My head wasn't right for that first couple months, I didn't feel like I was taking full advantage of the situation I was in and I didn't really realise how good the situation was."

Travelling to Europe in career-best form, internal frustration and disappointment had the potential to derail the significant momentum he had built. Landale realised he had a job to do, and he enabled his mind to flip the script: This was not a roadblock -- it was, in fact, a golden opportunity for growth.

"It was the most professional environment I've ever been in -- the benefits we have for a European club in terms of charter flights, massage therapists, our own weight room, 24-hour access to a gym, all that stuff is just unbelievable," he said.

"Being out there, I realised I was loving it and started getting in extra work. My season, which was a very frustrating and inconsistent one, started to creep along. I noticed I was getting more minutes and my coaches were becoming more confident in me.

"I'm so grateful for the season with them because I feel like I took a huge step in terms of becoming more of a man and furthering my skills."

Along with the rest of the world, the immediate future is uncertain for Landale, and he admitted that for the first time in his career, he has no idea what will come next.

Steadfast on making his NBA dream a reality next season, now is the time to stay ready, even if the facilities on the family farm are not quite of the standard he grew fond of at Zalgiris.

"I have been sleeping in until 9 a.m., working out in the morning for an hour or two -- we are lucky enough to have a gym on the farm, so I was doing stuff there -- and then later at night doing some sprint work," he said.

"I haven't been on the court yet -- I was planning on getting back into that, but now that all the lockdown in Australia is happening and Europe would be stupid to put the season back on ... today's the first day I've thought about potentially having a genuine five months to work on my game, work on my body.

"I have no idea what's next, so I'll probably try and rest mentally and spend some good time with family, but right now, it's all up in the air."

The only way normalcy will and can resume for Landale, Australia and the rest of the world is with cooperation and discipline, a message Landale wanted to strongly emphasise.

"It's shocking to me how lightly people are taking this," Landale said.

"The quicker we all put ourselves in quarantine and get this thing under control, the quicker we go back to living out normal lives. It's starting to really piss me off that people are out at Bondi Beach and complaining about not being able to go to bars. That's all s--- I love to do, as well; this is my offseason, I would love to be going to a club or going to a bar with a mate and kicking back, but it is what is, this is the situation we are in, so we just need to deal with it so we can move on.

"My message to everyone is do what they [authorities] say: Get indoors, let's get this thing under control and we can all move on, because if I stay on this farm the entire five months, I'll go crazy. I do want to get back to Melbourne and see all my mates, so I think if we can all just listen and follow the protocols, we can get this under control as quickly as possible.

"A lot of young people, me included, aren't at [as high a] risk, but I'm thinking about my grandparents who are in homes, they are the ones on my mind every day because they are the ones at risk, and I don't want to see any of my family perish from this."