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Olympic bronze, NBA contract just the beginning for Australia's Jock Landale

As a historic Olympic medal loomed for the Boomers, big man Jock Landale received the news he had been waiting for his entire life.

A zoom call with his agent and partner India was scheduled to prime Landale for what was to come in free agency, a tabling of potential opportunities that could arise in the coming days.

"I told my agent that I was in the Olympics and that's where I wanted my head to be," Landale recalled to ESPN from his hotel in Los Angeles. "I understood it was a massive free agency for me, I knew something was going to happen or that if there was a year it was going to happen this would be it.

"Me and India got on a call and he said, 'I'm not calling you to talk about how it's going to go, I'm calling you to tell you that you'll be in the NBA next year, you've got an offer from San Antonio.'

"For him to spring that on me was a dream come true. I've always idolised San Antonio as an organisation, it was out of the blue and I'm really happy it's happened now. First deal, I wanted to sign, and it just ended up being one of the teams I've always wanted to play for."

Receiving congratulatory messages from left, right and centre, there was one curious omission: Long-time San Antonio guard and Boomers teammate, Patty Mills.

"He was next to me at the village, but he had just put out an Instagram post saying 'I'm in the portal' which in his words means he's focused so I didn't know whether to talk to him and get his general vibe or just leave him alone.

"I decided to leave him alone, it would be selfish of me to go in there and ask about the Spurs when we had a bigger goal in mind. Those guys had put 12 years towards this thing and if I was to come in here and make this about me, I would feel shocking about myself as a teammate, so I didn't say anything to him."

Focused or not, it would still seem a little odd that Mills would not mention the huge career landmark given his ties with the franchise, right?

"Everyone kind of read the tweet that I'd agreed to terms and every single person in Basketball Australia reached out except for Patty and I thought this guy must seriously be locked in right now beyond belief," Landale laughed.

"After we won bronze, we got onto the bus and he was like 'yo, we sit next to each other on the bus and you're not going to say a single thing to me or ask a single thing about San Antonio?'

"I didn't know what to say, I just said I didn't want to take him out of 'the portal'. I told him he did it to himself."

The announcement of the deal came approximately 24 hours before the Boomers were set to play against Team USA with an opportunity to advance to the gold medal game. Of course, it would also pit Landale against his future head coach, the legendary Gregg Popovich.

"People were texting about playing against my future coach and I wondered if that's how the game would be judged but it was nothing about playing against Pop or free agency, we just had a job to do and that was beat the US."

After a promising first half, the Boomers fell away in the second, leaving the squad to pick up the pieces and mentally re-group for the bronze medal match. Landale credits head coach Brian Goorjian for instantly flipping the mentality of the locker room.

"He came in and he gave us one of his legendary speeches. Everyone was fired up and wanting to go play right now. It was that kind of vibe."

Never playing under Goorjian before Tokyo, Landale walked away from the Olympics in awe of the first up experience.

"When Goorj wants to make a point, you'll snap your neck trying to make eye contact with him. I've had some really good coaches in my time, Andrea Trinchieri, Šarūnas Jasikevičius, Randy Bennett, Dean Vickerman, they are all phenomenal coaches, but none left me like that meeting after meeting. I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it, it's insane.

"The way he delivers his message and gets a point across is unbelievable and the results speak for themselves. I don't think we could have gotten it done without Goorj and his attention to detail. He's a savant. He understands the game like no other and being able to immerse yourself in his excellence takes you to new heights. I learned so much during this campaign and have nothing but the best things to say about him."

Tallying 14 points on an efficient 6-for-8 shooting in the bronze medal game, Landale cemented himself as an integral part of the program moving forward. Though, it didn't always come easy, with some self-doubt during training camp leaving him questioning his impact.

Sliding to the four to play alongside big man Aron Baynes, Landale's role became all about the little things that oftentimes would not show up on the stat sheet.

"My job was more indirect which is always tough coming off a season where people see what you can do. The thing that always rattled through my brain early in the campaign was a game against Argentina.

"I didn't have a bad game; I just didn't really do a whole lot and people see me coming off a season where I averaged 17 and nine and had a massive role and then only having six points and six rebounds and saying I can't play at the level. All that kind of nonsense, but you don't understand the role that I'm in, the job that I've been tasked to do and that was to stretch the defence, spread out on the wing and let Patty and Joe and Baynes play the pick-and-roll.

"It was effective for us, we were winning, we were beating some pretty damn good teams, but that kind of stuff, everyone reads it, everyone sees it, it rattles you for a little bit, but I just moved on and it was all good."

An untimely neck injury cruelly ended the campaign early for Baynes, moving Landale to the more familiar position at the five.

"My role became a lot clearer cut in that I was always going to be involved. End of shot clock it was always going to be me and Patty or me and Joe in an on ball. That adjustment, realising I was going to be involved in those plays down the end of the game was comforting for me, I enjoy being in that position and having that load."

He admits he is yet to watch the bronze clinching game against Slovenia, with both the on-court and off-court action a little hazy in his mind.

"The celebrations took precedent, but I do want to watch it," he says with a smile.

"Patty was keeping us in that thing, I know he had 42 and nine and loves telling us all about it but what really stood out was when Dante started hitting three, and Joe hit threes and Nick Kay had a big three and the floodgates opened thanks to the work Patty had done to keep us in it.

"No disrespect to Patty because he had an incredible game but the thought that sticks with me is all the other guys getting involved and as soon as that started, I thought we had it in the bag, we were going to create history. Chris [Goulding] was on the bench with me going mental and when Chris goes mental you think you're going to win. It was the little stuff around Patty's excellence that stood out to me."

As for the celebrations?

"It will be a strange mixture of me forgetting a lot and incidents that will stay with me forever. I obviously can't let you in on all the stuff, but I will say a lot of the Australian Boomers know how to put away some beers and have a good time.

"The initial excitement in the locker room after the game, first sip of beer in three or four weeks. That will stay in my head forever as one of the best sips of beer I've ever had."

Arriving in San Antonio early this week for his medical and contract signing, the work is only just beginning for Landale, with training camp set to tip in September.

"I have the option to do my own thing, but I feel as though there's so much to set up and be ready for. I really want to get on the front foot in my first season, so I'll stay out there and get to work. I just want to work on my game, I haven't had this amount of time in a long time to just work on my craft so I'm pretty excited to get out there and get to work with those guys."

Landale has never been one to shy away from publicly challenging himself, famously declaring Melbourne United would go undefeated en route to the NBL 21 championship.

While they didn't quite go through unbeaten, they did win the title, with Landale taking Finals MVP honours to go along with Olympic bronze and an NBA contract in a whirlwind two-month period.

Despite that, he bristles at any suggestion this is as good as it gets.

"The best way to summarise it is that I'm not going to let this be the peak of my career. Some people have texted me saying it must be so crazy and asking if it's the peak. The kind of guy I am that I try to enjoy the moment but I'm not that good at it and it's because I'm so driven to keep improving and developing as a person and a player. Maybe there's some fault in that but when I got those texts it kind of took me out of the enjoyment of the moment and I was like 'hell no'. There's a gold medal to be won, there's a second contract to sign, there's still so much.

"Putting all that aside, this period has been a testament to the hard work, the heartbreak, all the stuff I've gone through, the doubt from people, everything. It's been really hard at times, and I think I reflect on that more than anything."

In Landale's mind, it's not about what he has achieved, it's what's still to come. Next stop, the bright lights on the NBA.

"I feel like I'm only just getting started," he declares.