76ers Rookie Landry Shamet Carries Family’s Love for Kansas City BBQ to NBA
LOS ANGELES -- Landry Shamet is not impressed.
During the three months he spent preparing for the 2018 NBA draft at Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, the sharpshooter out of Wichita State had wondered where the famed Hollywood sign was.
“I've looked all over the place for it,” he tells CloseUp360. “Swear to God.”
Now, as he rides on the 10 East freeway from Santa Monica towards Koreatown on New Year’s Eve, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie catches his first glimpse of those historic white letters propped up on the Hollywood Hills.
“Not that cool,” he says. “Pretty anticlimactic.”
The hope is that Landry doesn’t feel the same way about the Korean barbecue he’s trekking across town to sample. Though he’s not a BBQ snob—self-styled or otherwise—he can’t help but bring a connoisseur's discerning taste buds to the table for gogi gui. After all, he was born and raised in another K with a reputation for grilled and smoked fare: Kansas City.
Before heading out for Korean barbecue, Landry Shamet poses near the Santa Monica Pier. (Aaron Massarano)
For the uninitiated, Kansas City barbecue is known best for its wide variety of spice-rubbed, slow-cooked meats. But while Missouri’s brand of BBQ also distinguishes itself with tomato-based sauces, Landry prefers his meats dry.
“For me, at least, the mark of good barbecue is if you don't need to like completely douse it in sauce,” he says. “If you can eat ribs that are just good with a dry rub, that's my mark of if barbecue's good or not.
“Anybody can make like a good sauce and shitty smoked ribs, and then just drench it in some barbecue sauce.”
Landry was practically born in a barbecue pit. His mother, Melanie, was a waitress at Smokehouse Barbecue—a Shamet family favorite—before she welcomed her only child into the world.
Though Melanie was a single mom, she had plenty of support in raising little Landry. He spent the first three years of his life under the roof of his grandparents, Patty and Dennis, and alongside his aunt, Janell, and uncle, Tyler.
They were a family of modest means. After working at Smokehouse, Melanie moved onto Harrah’s North Kansas City Hotel and Casino, where she’s done everything from housekeeping and laundry to supervising the front desk.
“Everybody comes to her for everything because she's been there for so long,” Landry says. “She kind of knows everything and knows everyone.”
Despite her prominence at Harrah’s, Melanie often struggled to make ends meet. She worked double shifts and moved the two of them around town—including back to her parents’ house after filing for bankruptcy when Landry was in the eighth grade. Along the way, he was thrust into independence as he bounced from school to school, and often wound up home alone while his mom was putting in long hours at Harrah’s.
“From a really, really early age, I had to learn how to be mature and make good decisions,” he says, “and not burn the house down while my mom was working and getting home late.”
Without a full-blown smoker around his home, Landry could neither start a fire nor cook up proper Kansas City barbecue. But that didn’t stop the Shamets from occasionally throwing chicken and beef ribs on the grill or—better yet—bringing in brisket and burnt ends (his favorite) from Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que or Q39 restaurants.
“We would go places,” he says. “Leave that stuff to the experts.”
Beyond meats, the Shamets were bound by sports.
Melanie played volleyball at Boise State. Janell did the same at Southwest Missouri State (now known as Missouri State). Tyler was a long jumper. All three wound up on the athletic wall of fame at Park Hill High School.
Landry showed a similar knack for sports from a young age.
“There's pictures of me in diapers, like holding baseball bats and dribbling basketballs, punching in boxing gloves, whatever,” he says.
When he was in kindergarten, his mom took him to the local YMCA for a week-long introduction to Pee Wee basketball. While most of the kids could barely bounce the pint-sized balls, Landry had little trouble rocking the lowered rims, thanks to his inherited height and athleticism.
“I was the only kid there able to dunk on the little Pee Wee goal,” he recalls. “They were, like, ‘Oh, don't dunk, don't dunk,’ basically try not to make other kids feel bad. Like, ‘No, we're just doing layups right now.’”
Though Landry dabbled in football and had a knack for baseball—as both a pitcher and shortstop—basketball truly stuck. He fell in love with the games of Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, watching their YouTube highlights on repeat. When he was in the fourth grade, Landry joined the Kansas City Pumas (now the Kansas City Pacers), and stuck with that same travel ball club through his prep days.
Like his mom, aunt and uncle, Landry wound up at Park Hill. And like those three, he, too, finished his time with the Trojans in line for a spot on the wall of fame.
At Oo-Kook Korean BBQ in LA’s Koreatown neighborhood, Landry handles the tabletop grill like a seasoned pro. He flips thin slices of brisket and Kobe beef, and tends to thick chunks of marinated chicken in between bites of salad and steamed egg.
Still, Landry insists that making barbecue himself is not his forte, though he cops to at least one cap-worthy feather from his culinary repertoire.
“I made some killer barbecue chicken on the grill one day,” he says.
With some dry rub and overnight marinade, Landry transformed some quarters and drumsticks into a feast for his housemates (who were also his teammates) at Wichita State.
“After I made that the first time, my roommate was, like, ‘Oh shit, that shit's good,’” he says. “So we went back to that a couple of times.”
When they weren’t busy practicing, playing or going to class, he and his fellow Shockers spent their evenings on the patio, grilling steaks, chicken and whatever else they happened to pick up.
“I'm not giving myself enough credit here,” Landry quips.
As a top-100 prospect in the high school class of 2015, Landry could’ve followed his basketball talents far from home. Though he considered playing college ball at Colorado—and Melanie prepared to move with him by familiarizing herself with other, lesser-paying jobs at Harrah’s—Landry opted for the three-hour drive to Wichita State.
“I was always there,” he says, “and even after I committed, I was going to more games that next year leading up to me being there.”
During those trips, Landry got to know Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, who had helped build the Shockers into a perennial powerhouse. By going to Wichita State, he hoped to learn first-hand from Ron and Fred before they graduated.
Landry was in line to do just that as a freshman. Through his first three games, he averaged 8.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 17.7 minutes.
But a stress fracture in his left foot cut short his true freshman season and, with it, his opportunity to play alongside Ron and Fred, who both graduated in 2016 and entered the NBA draft. Even with Landry out, the Shamets kept trekking to Wichita to support the Shockers from the stands at Charles Koch Arena.
Landry returned as a redshirt freshman in 2016-17, just in time to help the Shockers keep winning without their star backcourt. He averaged 11.4 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 43.9 percent from three and propelling Wichita State to a 31-win season.
Then, during the summer of 2017, came another stress fracture—this time in his right foot.
“It's degrading in its own way, especially at the time of my second one,” he says. “I have people talking to me about the NBA prior to that happening. When it happened, at the time you're thinking, like, ‘Damn, two foot injuries in three years of college. How good does that look?’
“It's easy to start getting into like doubtful thought cycles.”
But instead of falling into an abyss during what Landry calls “some of the lowest points of my life,” he spent that time away from his teammates among the comfort of his family close by. He returned to action in time to average 14.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds while draining 44.2 percent of his threes as a redshirt sophomore.
That performance put Landry firmly on the NBA’s map. The Sixers nabbed him at No. 26 in the 2018 draft, making him the highest pick out of Wichita State since Xavier McDaniel went fourth overall to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1985.
Even with his penchant for barbecue, Landry cuts a long, lean figure. Along with his height and leaping ability, the 21-year-old inherited his uncle’s hummingbird metabolism. For him, it’s seemingly impossible to pack much-needed weight onto his 6’5”, 188-pound frame.
“It's the worst. It's so hard, so frustrating,” he laments. “Everybody's, like, ‘Oh, that's a good problem to have.’ Not when I'm on a switch with Kawhi Leonard.”
In Philly, though, he has ample opportunity to load up on calories. As one of the team’s two active rookies, along with Jonah Bolden, Landry is tasked with filling the Sixers’ Chick-fil-A orders before road trips.
For most players, that means the standard order of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But for Joel Embiid, that means four spicy chicken sandwiches, four waffle fries and four cookies-and-cream milkshakes.
“I don't know how he does it,” Landry says, “but I think I need to probably start doing that, too, if I'm going to turn into a double-double machine [like Joel].”
Landry partakes in the Chick-fil-A basics. And since Jimmy Butler joined the team, Landry has become the chief steward of the All-Star swingman’s portable, temperature-controlled wine case.
“He'll share from time to time, if he breaks a bottle out on the plane or whatever,” Landry says. “I do like wine, too.”
Chicken sandwiches and red wine aside, he maintains a relatively clean and conscientious diet in Philly. So, too, do Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick, the latter of whom is Landry’s “vet” on the team.
Landry prepares Korean gogi gui, cooking thin slices of brisket and Kobe beef. (Aaron Massarano)
The Sixers make that easy enough with JaeHee Cho, a full-service chef, on call at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. Though Landry could indulge in pancakes and waffles if he wanted, he tends instead to request oatmeal and fruit for breakfast nowadays, with chicken or fish from the afternoon lunch spreads.
“It's some of the best food I've had, at our practice facility,” he says. “It's really, really good.”
When he’s not loading up on JaeHee’s fresh fare, Landry will pick up quick bites from Whole Foods Market, sit down for pasta at Osteria on Broad Street, enjoy some Mexican cuisine at Lolita, or order in from Pietro’s Coal Oven Pizzeria on the Caviar app.
Good barbecue, though, remains a rare find for Landry in the NBA, be it in Philadelphia or on the road. Monty Williams, an assistant coach on Brett Brown’s Sixers staff, insists to Landry that such does, in fact, exist.
“He makes little subtle jabs at me, like, ‘You won't be looking at Kansas City barbecue the same when we go to this place in Memphis, blah blah blah,’” Landry says. “And I'll be, like, ‘Okay, whatever.’”
In the meantime, Landry is surviving just fine without barbecue. He knows the dietary territory well. He spent a year between high school and college with minimal red meat intake.
“Am I saying I was perfect? No, I would splurge,” he admits. “I think I had like a steak or two. Lean red meat is not bad. I just felt better running on chicken and fish.”
So much so that he says he would consider reverting to a similarly meat-light diet in the future, in part because of the Sixers’ stocked cafeteria.
Landry takes a break between bites at Oo-Kook Korean BBQ in Los Angeles. (Aaron Massarano)
Basketball has taken Landry all over the world—far beyond even the hype of New Year’s Eve in LA.
His first preseason as a pro brought him across the Pacific Ocean for the NBA China Games. Though he wasn’t particularly impressed by the dense cityscapes of Shanghai and Shenzhen—and rarely left the team hotels—he got to sample some delicious dumplings while overseas.
In high school, Landry’s play with the Kansas City Pumas brought him as far west as Las Vegas.
“When you're 14, 15 in Vegas, it's not really, you know, not a ton there to do,” he says.
Still, Landry’s AAU travels took him to the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. While at Wichita State, he got to experience the natural splendor of Hawaii during the 2017 Maui Invitational Tournament.
“It was easy to just enjoy yourself there,” he says. “You didn't have to put any effort in. Just go outside and sit, and you're having a good time.”
Landry’s most memorable pre-NBA trip, though, may well have been in August 2016, when the Shockers swung through Montreal. The city was pretty and all, and the poutine was tasty. But it was the sight of a nudist bike ride—escorted by police, no less—that stuck with him the most.
“I got a real good taste of Canadian culture, I guess, eating fries and gravy and cheese curds, and watching naked people ride by on their bikes,” he chuckles. “I don't know how much more Canadian it could get.”
While riding back from Korean barbecue in LA, Landry is once again captivated by a cyclist on the street. Except, this one is fully clothed and balancing on a unicycle, with the cops also agape.
“That’s impressive,” he says.
The NBA life has afforded Landry much more than charter flights and first-class accommodations for work. He’s used some of his early checks to beef up his watch collection. As a “huge car guy,” he also upgraded to a Jaguar XJ and handed his 2009 Lincoln MKZ to his granddad.
That aside, not much has changed about Landry since landing in the NBA. He may have a new nickname—”Land Shark,” courtesy of Sixers point guard T.J. McConnell. But on the court, he’s still the same sharpshooter, to the extent that he’s earned a consistent role in the rotation of a Philly squad that’s one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Off of it, Landry remains laidback and even-keeled. He keeps his style simple, opting for the classic chic of Hugo Boss over designer streetwear.
“I'm not a hypebeast,” he says. “You won't catch me wearing a Supreme man purse satchel around my chest with my Supreme hoodie and my Supreme shoes.”
Landry remains close with his family. His distance from Kansas City and hectic schedule make phone calls and text messages all the more critical for keeping up with folks back home.
Melanie still works at Harrah’s, out of her own insistence on self-reliance. Landry does, however, help out with her bills, making sure she doesn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck anymore.
“Giving her an opportunity now to build her retirement plan, not just throwing money at her like uncontrollably,” he says. “I think we're both being really responsible about being smart and setting myself up for the best future I can set myself up with, and also doing the same for her, which is really cool, being able to help there.”
Outside of helping the 76ers compete for a championship, Landry’s hopes for the future are similarly modest. He still likes to cook, and hopes to host Sixers teammate Mike Muscala for chili at some point. Landry would like to commit some of his downtime to picking up the piano—something he calls “one of my biggest regrets” not learning while growing up around the jazz and blues of Kansas City.
“I envy people that can sit down at a piano and play,” he says.
Once the offseason comes, Landry will turn some of his attention towards completing his degree in business management through online courses at Wichita State (he says he’s “like 85 percent done”).
Eventually, he’ll return to Kansas City to spend time with his mom at the house she bought in 2016. He will also pay a visit to his aunt, uncle and grandparents at the house that served as a safe haven for the Shamet family during his childhood.
Landry's Favorite BBQ Spots in KC
1) Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
3) Gates Bar-B-Q
4) Smokehouse Barbecue
“They're all the same,” he says. “They haven't changed up. They don't see me as changing up.”
And they certainly won’t see Landry changing up his usual order of brisket and burnt ends at Joe’s when he goes to get his fix of Kansas City barbecue.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.