PHILADELPHIA — It was sometime around the 21st pick in last week’s NBA draft that Landry Shamet started to fidget. He’s not afraid to admit that he was nervous.
“My heart was about to fall out of my chest,” he said during his introductory news conference at the Sixers’ Camden complex on Friday.
Luckily, with him was the one person who could help calm the nerves: his mother Melanie.
“My nerves started increasing when I noticed Landry getting a little nervous, when it came closer to that 20’s range,” she said. “Then when it happened, it happened pretty quickly.”
Shamet was drafted with the 26th pick by the Sixers. His mom looked over at him and saw him do something he’d done before. He put his head down and hid his face. She said he had done this before in big moments. She knew exactly what he was thinking.
“I could tell they were trying to keep me calm and keep me cool, telling me jokes here and there,” Landry said. “You’re finding out what the start of your future is going to be. It’s nerve-racking, I was super excited.”
Within seconds, their lives had changed. A few more seconds later, he was whisked away for photo-ops and interviews and then before she knew it — after shedding tears of joy and sharing hugs with everyone around her — she had lost her son in the sea of tunnels deep in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
He eventually found his way back to his mom, his No. 1 fan.
“It’s been Landry and I from Day One,” she said. “Being a single mother, on a single income, things were tight. Had to work hard, live paycheck to paycheck and still do. But I did it all for Landry. I wanted him to have a better life and better opportunities than what I had. So you just make sacrifices.”
It wasn’t always easy. As Melanie was working long hours on third shifts, Landry was fighting his own battles.
He played on a smaller AAU team, didn’t go to a highly rated high school and dealt with injuries while at Wichita State. But the people in his corner knew he was something special.
Shamet shot 44 percent from 3-point range. He had the highest true shooting percentage in the American Athletic Conference (65.5 percent.) and did so with one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios.
Melanie said Landry’s AAU coach, Darin Mason, called her late Thursday. “What did I tell you when Landry was 14?” He said. “We were going to be in this position.”
She wasn’t surprised.
There was a time when Landry was playing three sports: football, baseball and basketball. Competitive sports in high school can be expensive; something had to give. She offered her son the option of playing baseball non-competitively to be around his friends. But Landry told his mom he was going to play in the NBA someday, so non-competitive sports were not an option.
Most mock drafts had Shamet getting selected in the second round, if at all. But Shamet didn’t care what they said. Though he can be his worst critic, he felt good about his performance in the lead up to the draft.
“No offense to mocks, but those aren’t the people making the decisions,” he said.
He’s right. At the NBA draft combine and in team workouts, Shamet impressed. One NBA executive said he didn’t have much confidence in Shamet’s athleticism coming into workouts, but after seeing Shamet he was convinced the Kansas City native was the real deal.
“He can flat out shoot the ball, and he is quick,” the executive said. “He’s a deceptive kind of athlete.”
In discussions with his agent, Shamet figured he would fall somewhere between picks 20 and 35. Which is why he started to tense up Thursday night.
Melanie tried to keep everybody calm and limit conversations about the draft. After all, everything they could do had already been done. It was out of their control.
“Now his dreams are a reality,” she said.
As a first-round selection, Landry is guaranteed $1.6 million as a starting salary. He plans to be careful with his newfound fortune, but there’s one person he wants to pay back immediately.
“That’s been the goal all along,” he said. “I can only hope to repay her, but I know I won’t be able to; I can try. She’s done too much for me. We’re tight as a knot, her and I. I’m gonna try to be as smart as I can with my money. I’m not going to be buying a Bentley coupe, but I’m going to take care of her.”
As far as NBA competition goes, Shamet knows he won’t have the expectations placed on him that an early draft pick would have, but he intends on doing everything he can to prove doubters wrong.
“I’m ready to do it.”