This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Oregon edition.
Landen Lucas is used to life on the road.
His first passport photo was taken less than two weeks after he was born, a necessary step in the family’s move to Tokyo, where his father, Richard, was playing professional basketball.
The Lucases moved back to Eugene when Landen was 3, and he spent his elementary school days in Portland before returning to Japan for his sixth-grade year with his mom, Shelley.
Then last year, after spending his first two high school years at Sunset, Lucas played his junior season for national basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., a city roughly 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas. Lucas traveled across the country with the Pilots, capping his season at the ESPNHS National High School Invitational in North Bethesda, Md.
Shortly after Findlay Prep’s loss in the NHSI quarterfinals, Lucas started talking with his parents about returning to Portland for his senior season. His plan came to fruition this summer when he transferred to Westview, ensuring that he’ll spend his final high school campaign in front of family and friends.
Lucas couldn’t be happier with his decision. Shelley won’t need to rack up the frequent-flyer miles just to see him play, as she often did last year. He gets to walk his golden retriever, Buddy, every day in the park, a simple activity he missed while at Findlay. And he gets to be a regular high school student again — albeit one who is rated Oregon’s top player by ESPNU and has signed on to play for national hoop power Kansas next winter.
“He’s a big-time game-changer,” says Westview coach Pat Coons.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound center is ready to dominate this year after taking some time off from basketball following his demanding yearlong sojourn at Findlay. There, Lucas spent every day playing, practicing and thinking about hoops.
“The hardest part was the year-round basketball,” he says. “AAU was overlapping with my basketball season, and I was getting tired.”
Though Lucas felt burnt out, he doesn’t regret leaving Sunset for Findlay following his sophomore year. Lucas was coming off a season in which he averaged 12.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for the Apollos. During the playoffs, he set Class 6A state tournament records with three-game totals of 45 rebounds and 11 blocks. And in his final game at Sunset, he was a monster, tallying 17 points, 20 boards and two blocks in the Apollos’ 60-49 win over McKay in the fourth-place game.
“His state tournament run was dominant,” says Sunset coach Todd Sherwood.
Despite his breakout season, Lucas wasn’t happy with his play. He felt his work ethic wasn’t there and his game had peaked. Findlay offered the perfect opportunity to change all that.
“He needed a new challenge,” his mom says.
At Findlay, he faced plenty of challenges on the court. The Pilots’ training regimen mirrors a college workout routine, and practices featured some of the nation’s top players.
Lucas slowly got acclimated to playing for Findlay, and by the end of the year he was starting for the Pilots. He finished the season averaging 5.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
“He made huge strides,” says Findlay coach Michael Peck.
However, Lucas didn’t need to adjust to being away from home. He was used to it thanks to his time in Japan.
He spent the first part of his life learning primarily Japanese. When he returned to Oregon, he enrolled at the International School in Portland, which teaches classes in Japanese. (Lucas was also taught classes in English for an hour a day.)
His mother put him in the International School because she didn’t want Lucas to lose the Japanese he learned in Japan. And she decided to return to Japan with her son when he was in sixth grade so he could master the language.
Lucas and his mom moved to the city of Fukui so he could be fully immersed in the local culture. There, unlike in Tokyo, everything was in Japanese.
“My mom didn’t speak Japanese that well, so I had to do most of the translating,” recalls Lucas. “Being away there made it easier for me to go to Findlay, and it will make it easier once I go off to college. It may be a new environment, but it’s not that new to the point where you can’t read signs and go food shopping and don’t know what you’re getting.”
Lucas also played basketball in Japan, where all-day practices instilled in him the importance of hustle and sacrifice. He’s also learned the value of hard work from his father, whose all-out style of play made him a fan favorite at the University of Oregon.
“From Day 1, I tried to impart that rebounding was so important,” says Richard. “If you can make that an integral part of your game, the points will come and the accolades will come.”
Lucas is hoping his play will help lead Westview to a state title this season, though he’ll be under a microscope having transferred to Sunset’s archrival. Westview and Sunset play a home-and-home series in February.
“The decision was not wanting to not go to Sunset,” says Lucas. “It was being more comfortable at Westview.”
“I think everyone is moving forward,” adds Sherwood.
“I hope he has success this year, except against us, and
I wish the best for him.”
Lucas is prepared for the scrutiny he’s going to face, but he’s more concerned with enjoying his senior year on and off the court. Already a stellar student, he’s focused on improving his 3.8 GPA, and he plans on trying out for the golf team in the spring.
“I’m looking to have a lot of fun this year,” says Lucas.
Sounds like a kid who’s happy to be home.