Sylven Landesberg Looks To Defeat The Odds
A diamond in the rough out of the ACC looks to shine at NBA pre-Draft workouts.
by Franklyn Calle
Sylven Landesberg isn’t afraid of taking chances. As a senior in high school at Holy Cross in Flushing, NY, he opted to attend Virginia in the midst of being recruited by major programs such as the likes of Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Texas, Villanova, and St. John’s, among others. Today, as we get closer and closer to the NBA Draft by the hour, Landesberg is taking another huge chance by deciding to maintain his name in the draft and risking a no guaranteed contract or spot on a team. But if you’ve watched him play for a while, then you know his pro talent isn’t questionable. The 6-6 wing was the leader of the Virginia Cavaliers in both of his seasons at Charlottesville playing under coaches Dave Leitao as freshman and then Tony Bennett this past season as a sophomore. Landesberg averaged 16.6 points and 6 rebounds as a freshman. His collegiate debut saw him rupture for 28 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Expectations then sky rocketed for the 2008 McDonald’s All American, and many believed he could bring Virginia to the top tier of the ACC. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers failed to bring over enough adequate talent to help him out. And although Landesberg continued to put up big numbers for Virginia, the results remained unpleasantly the same for the team.
Throughout the course of his freshman season, the New York City native finished with 20 or more points on 12 occasions (freshman school record), including a 32-point performance against Boston College. Landesberg scored double-figures in 23 of his 28 games. He led all ACC freshmen in scoring, minutes played and was third in rebounds and assists. His outstanding play led to him being honored as ACC Rookie of the week six-times and ultimately taking home the 2009 ACC Rookie of the Year. He then returned for his sophomore year where he once again led the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. He ranked 6th in the ACC in scoring and free throw percentage (81%), and 7th in field goal percentage, landing him a spot in the Second-team All-ACC selection.
So with these numbers then why is it that most of you don’t know much about him? Why isn’t he really talked about as much as others who have right around the same statistics as him? Well, playing for a team at the bottom of a conference such as the ACC can do that to you. The 29 points he put up against North Carolina in Virginia’s victory at Chapel Hill or the 28 points he handed to Wake Forest in a heart-breaking overtime lost this past season all of the sudden become irrelevant to many. The fact that he was one of the top wings in a variety of categories, in such a start-studded conference should tell you much. Had Landesberg dropped the same numbers but for a team that made the NCAA Tournament, how different would his draft stock be looking right now? I would honestly have to say very different.
Currently on a vigorous pre-draft workout regimen, Landesberg has wasted little time since the end of his season on preparing for that next step. He returned to New York in late March and has been working out with his trainer Jay Hernandez as team workout dates approach. He is an expert in creating shots for himself and continuously improved his perimeter shooting throughout his college career. Finishing at the rim and getting to the free throw line is also a vicinity in where Landesberg is very effective. On the proper team, he can be an efficacious contributor.
SLAM caught up with Landesberg last week as he wrapped up his third workout of the day.
SLAM: What is your basketball workout regimen looking like these days as you prepare for teams’ pre-draft workouts?
Sylvan Landesberg: I’m basically working out three times a day. It basically starts at 9:30 am. I start working with agility and just working on technical stuff, preparing for the draft. Then I’m working out two more times after that with my trainer Jay Hernandez.
SLAM: When did you make up your mind that you were going to enter the draft? Was it after the season or did you have it in mind coming into the year?
SL: I had it in mind coming into the year. I feel like my numbers from my freshmen year were good enough to enter the draft last year but I felt like I needed to improve on some things. Coming back, my numbers didn’t improve that much but I did improve in the parts that I wanted to improve, you know, such as my three-point shooting and my field goal percentage. I was struggling with that my freshman year and I got a lot better at them. So I felt like I was ready now that I proved myself that I got better in those areas.
SLAM: Have much of an effect did your suspension at the end of the season have on your decision to leave Virginia, if any?
SL: None at all. I pretty much had set in my mind what I wanted to do. I just wanted to improve my shooting percentage. I was going to pretty much leave regardless after this year. I have no feeling towards coach Bennett at all. I still think he is a great guy and coach.
SLAM: What are you hearing in terms of where you might end up in the draft?
SL: Well, I’m hearing a lot of things about late first or early second round. So hopefully I do good in my workouts so I could end up around there or maybe even a little earlier.
SLAM: Is there any team in particular that you are looking to workout for? Do you have any set up yet?
SL: I ‘m really leaving all of that up to my agent Jeff Schwartz. I haven’t really asked too much about it. I’ve just been working out really hard and he tells me where to go. When it’s time for me to leave, I’m pretty sure he is going to give me a call.
SLAM: If you had to describe your game to an NBA scout, what would you say?
SL: I would say I’m real good with the ball. I’m long and athletic. And my jump shot has improved a whole lot. So I’m able to create my own shot and get to the basket. I think my basketball IQ is very high as well. So if I’m breaking a defender down, I’m not looking to just get my shot off but also see opportunities for my teammates and be able to make that right pass.
SLAM: Do you feel like you were in the shadow of the Dukes and Carolinas throughout your college career? Could you have gotten more noticed had you played for a different team?
SL: Exactly. I definitely feel that way. I didn’t have quite the team they had. North Carolina had four pros or whatever it was. Duke had their pros. Wake Forest also. Teams like that always got the spotlight and have a bunch of pros on their team. I think my team was fairly well but it’s hard to shine out when you’re playing against great teams and players such as the ones you find in the ACC.
SLAM: I remember when you played AAU basketball for the New York Panthers. That team also featured West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks and Cincinnati’s Lance Stephenson. How does it feel knowing that all three of you guys might end up getting drafted together this year?
SL: I think it’s a great thing. It definitely shows to the younger kids in New York City who are playing on AAU teams that hard work does pay off. Anybody can make it. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make it. Anyone that plays for these AAU teams could be potential draft picks.
SLAM: What would you say was your best moment at Virginia? Any game in particular?
SL: I would say the greatest game was beating North Carolina at North Carolina. Not many people get to say they beat North Carolina at home. I think that was a great game and just the performance I was able to have there. It was a great feeling to have.
SLAM: What do you think about the New York City prospects coming up? Many are saying that NYC’s talent pool is slowing down or shrinking.
SL: I think New York guys coming out now may be developing a little late but I’ve seen a lot of good talent that will come out of New York since I’ve been home. I’ve been able to watch a few games and seen a few high schoolers play so I’ve seen a lot of good things. This could be interesting. A lot of good players are going to be coming out. I think they are going to put us back on the map.
SLAM: What are you working on the most right now as you prepare for the pre-draft workouts? Any part of your game in particular?
SL: I feel like it’s my jump shot still. Regardless of what I was able to shoot this year and what I’ve improved on, I feel like people still question my jump shot. I definitely feel like I’ve improved a lot on that ever since I’ve been home. My trainer has been putting me through some drills and I’m shooting around 65% from the NBA three-pointer right now consistently. So if I keep that up and when it gets time for workouts with defenders and what not, it will definitely go down but not down to, you know, the 30s or 40s and instead it will be more up towards the 50s, I hope.
SLAM: A huge amount of underclassmen declared for this year’s draft. Many have pointed at the fact that next year is the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement and that the NBA might be headed for a lockout. Was the pending CBA on your mind when it came time to declare for the draft?
SL: Not at all. After my freshman year, I heard a lot of things about me being able to go out and get picked up but I felt I wasn’t ready yet. But after this year, I felt I was more ready for the NBA and entered the draft. I don’t think the bargaining agreement had anything to do with my decision at all.
SLAM: If you could hand pick the team you would like to get drafted by, which team will that be?
SL: Well, it’s basically two teams. I am from New York so no matter how bad the Knicks got over the years it was always the Knicks. To get to play in the Garden every night, who wouldn’t want to do that? And my other team would have to be either Chicago because I grew up watching Michael Jordan over the years, or L.A. because they have a great legacy with Magic and Kobe now, so just being able to play in a team that’s had some of the game’s greatest players would be an honor.
SLAM: What NBA player do you feel your game is most similar to?
SL: (Laughs) I get asked that question all the time, man. And I still haven’t came up with an answer to that. I gotta work on that question.
SLAM: What NBA player do you try to study the most?
SL: I definitely love Kobe so I try to watch his games as much as possible. He’s slowing down a little bit but I think he’s still able to do his thing. He is so determine to win that he finds a way to win.
SLAM: On April 24th, you volunteered in planting trees at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens as part of New York City’s largest tree planting (20,000) event of the spring season. How did that go?
SL: That was a lot of fun. Being able to give back to the community in which I grew up playing in felt great. I feel like they gave me a lot by giving me the opportunity and a place to play on the weekends. So to do the little bit I did was a great feeling. Hopefully I would be able to come back and do more for the community.