Story by Jonathan Bass, Interview by Mark Carman
Landus Anderson is a 6-foot-6 wing with a pinpoint jumper, deadly first step and sinful handles. He’s the consummate teammate, and his coaches universally agree that he possesses all the intangibles to be a Division 1 starter. And yet Landus is finishing his junior season tucked away at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill., roughly 50 miles outside of Chicago.
Landus Anderson has Erb’s palsy, a neurological disorder that allows him only limited use in his right hand. If not for the partial paralysis in his hand, he most assuredly would be playing D-I ball – either starting for a mid-level program or coming off the bench with productive minutes at Florida State University, a school that he grew up in close proximity to, and one that tepidly recruited him. Landus’ Erb’s palsy was the impetus for this story, but within moments of meeting the young man it’s quickly evident that the disorder is hardly his defining characteristic.
It’s as if Landus was born to hoop. His father Lindsey played ball at Florida A&M; his mother Pamela suited up for Florida State College at Jacksonville. Beyond that, several of Landus’ uncles and cousins have peppered college squads. The genetics aren’t difficult to trace. He’s built like a prototypical basketball player: lean frame, long gate, expansive wingspan and broad shoulders.
Those shoulders. The ones with rippling lats whenever the left arm snakes into the passing lane or the left hand pulls the trigger on a quick-fire jumper. The ones so broad that they transformed what should have been a routine birth into an unconventional life. The ones that caused a doctor to pull on the newborn’s arm in order to deliver him from the birth canal, unintentionally resulting in longterm nerve damage. Those shoulders, a disruptive force since day one.
One doesn’t get to being a collegiate athlete (let alone a straight-A student) by way of passivity. That goes twofold for an individual working around a disability. In Landus’ demeanor there’s a reserved tenacity. Nothing overt or off-putting, but one palpable enough to where anyone in his sphere can feel it.
“We bought him a little scooter when he was, like, five years old,” said Lindsey, referring to the Razor scooters popular in the early-2000s. “His mom wanted to buy it, but I didn’t want to get it because I didn’t think he could handle it …. He figured that thing out in a few days, and would come by the house wide open on it. That’s when I said to myself ‘I’ll never doubt him again.'”
There’s a scene in Jurassic Park where Ian Malcolm opines that, “Life will not be contained …. Life finds a way.” Lindsey’s story about his son’s youth falls into that same vein: persistence cannot be contained; success finds a way. Landus may have been reared by two willful parents who balked at the word “can’t,” but there’s an innate requirement for success in him that percolates.
This isn’t to say that Landus never needed any massaging. His mother instilled in him at an early age that not only would he have the same opportunities as anyone without Erb’s palsy, but that weakness was only a mindset. Pamela spent three months teaching herself to tie her shoe with one hand to eliminate any notion such a task would be a challenge (such was her son’s reality). Landus speaks reverently of both his parents (itself a rarity for an adolescent), and is quick to smile about Pamela teaching him to lace up sneakers, iron clothes and cook – essentially the rites of becoming an adult. She hammered an ore of persistence into a steely resolve.
Landus’ love affair with basketball began at a young age, when his father bought him a NERF basketball hoop to hang on the back of a door. He could tie his shoes, ride scooters, swing a baseball bat and do every other activity kids of his age enjoyed, so why not play some hoop. According to Lindsey, the youngster immediately started shooting inside the house, carried the NERF ball everywhere he went and fell hard for the game that would befriend him for life.
It was only a matter of time before genetics caught up to passion. First it was being coached by his father. Then it was hitting a growth spurt and regularly beating his dad in backyard battles. From there it was starting all four years in high school, chasing Lindsey’s high of 39 points in a game (he fell two points shy) and playing against the likes of Jabari Parker and Julius Randle in AAU. It all led to a two-year sojourn at a college in Melbourne, Fla. and then up to St. Francis.
There were hardships, sure. Kids can be cruel, both on the court and off. Opposing fans would throw verbal barbs about his arm. Opponents would draw light to it by diagramming defenses to his weak side. Landus laughs off these memories with the cocksureness you find only in people completely comfortable in their own skin. None of it was new; teams and fans were playing a game he’d known his whole life – he had years of experience on the mental gymnastics they tried to pull.
His stint at Eastern Florida State College (EFSC) is what Landus says, “made him a man.” He was 300 miles from home, on another coast in a completely different section of Florida (the state’s panhandle and peninsula are like night and day), and worst yet he was playing out of position. Though he possesses a guard’s frame and instincts, his coach played him at a pick-and-pop power forward. His skills set was neutralized. He was static. Uncomfortable. Unhappy.
There’s a terseness in Landus’ voice when he discusses those two years. It was the last time he was frustrated with life. Mention of EFSC always circles around to mediations on the “business of basketball,” philosophizing that at a certain level there’s more to basketball than the love of the game. It is the collegiate mind piecing together the overarching scope of quid pro quo. The real world chipping away at youthful utopia.
The time at EFSC was not all bad. Landus willingly acknowledges that he matured as both a player and a person there. The program honored him with its inaugural “Heart of a Titan” award, which recognizes excellence both on and off the court. And the Titans won consecutive conference titles.
While the five-hour trek to Melbourne may have seemed far, it was nothing compared to where Landus finds himself now: 1,000 miles from home in a tiny outpost in northeast Illinois. He was the final scholarship offer for St. Francis coach Ryan Marks, who had to put in some work to pry the talent away from the Sunshine State. According to Landus, Coach Marks was a tough sell on his protective mother. From afar she had just watched her son grow “detached” and tire of basketball in the arms of an ill-fitting program; allowing the same thing to happen on the other side of the country was not an option. Marks made a home visit, endeared himself to the Anderson family and eventually won them over enough to bring Landus up to Illinois.
It’s plain to see why Landus and his family eventually warmed to the coach. Marks is a gregarious man who carries the appearance of living free of social constraints. His wardrobe consists of shorts that extend beyond the knees, a tucked in Polo shirt and Teeva sandals. He’s affable and a quick laugh, but is provident with his time. Marks will joke with his team away from the court, but once practice starts a military-like precision sets in. He commands respect with ease (never having to fight for players’ attention) and educates about the game’s finer points with tactical simplicity.
Beyond all this, Marks takes no excuses. After I questioned Landus if his recent shooting slump was due to a protective mask he had been wearing, the player returned serve to his coach and kickstarted a quick back-and-forth:
“Yeah, coach, maybe the mask is messing with my shot.”
“Great players don’t make excuses.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
As highly as he speaks of his parents, Landus treats his coach with the same reverence. Back on the business of basketball, he explains that Marks has hammered home everything that the sport can open up to its players. The springboard it can present, even in careers having nothing to do with the hardwood. Marks is the latest straight-shooter in a line of no-nonsense mentors.
Speaking with Landus is a joy in and of itself. His interests are as wide-ranging as his smile is bright. In music he likes everything from J. Cole to jazz and modern country. There’s no shortage of symbolism in his words, citing a lyric about a dolphin shaking its singular fin as his favorite verse, and the tale of Samson and Delilah as his favorite story. He talks about pursing a career in criminal justice (his father predicts that Landus will go to law school and become a successful attorney) and takes pride in getting straight As. He’s at that precise moment in time when the world is a series of open doors and uncrowded streets, and he possesses the drive and brains to pick whatever lane feels most comfortable.
Talking with Landus is also clinical. He is, among everything else, a student of the game of basketball. With little prompting he’ll break down how LeBron James’ two-footed jump stop is sneakily the most effective move in the NBA (“He lands with two feet evenly, meaning he can pivot to either side.”). He models his ball-handling after Jamal Crawford (“Me, in my condition, [I] gotta be crafty with the basketball.”). And he’ll diagram his favorite move (the in-and-out), explaining with a coach’s tactician how it gives him an edge whenever teams try to overplay.
Lawyer. Player. Coach. Counsellor. Trainer. Throw a dart at a book of careers and you could see him in any position.
In the sports industry it’s becoming easier by the day to grow cynical. Screaming heads get paid through the nose to sit on minted soapboxes and deliver hollow character assassinations. We’re conditioned to expect the worst – waiting for the next superstar’s sex, violence or substance abuse problem to erupt. There’s an unhealthy din, and only the most salacious rises to the top.
When we do seek out a positive narrative, it’s often tragic – bombing victims, people afflicted with terminal illnesses, teams rallying behind a town ravaged by storms – or unconventional like, say, a basketball player with limited use of his right arm.
And yet it seems disingenuous to call Landus Anderson disabled – he possesses athletic abilities most reading this piece could only dream about. Nor does labeling him as “one-armed” fit – the young man certainly has two arms. Saying that he suffers from, is afflicted with, or is hampered by Erb’s palsy are also wrong – he’s in his early 20s and thriving.
As Landus has thrived on the hardwood his nerve condition has brought recognition. Yet that feature that prompts so many articles and inquisitions could very well be the least interesting thing about the young man with an affable personality and guarded eyes.
It’s refreshing just how well-adjusted this guard/forward for the St. Francis Fighting Saints is. He works hard, makes friends easily, is great at his job (in this case: school), is also great at his hobby (in this case: basketball), loves his parents, speaks humbly, is coachable, delivers opinions confidently yet not forcefully, drives others to be better on work ethic alone, thinks about the bigger picture and is thoughtful in everything he says.
Who would’ve thought: a normal, down-to-earth athlete in an increasingly self-aggrandizing world. That alone is something easy to root for.