University of Kansas

Former KU center Landen Lucas making money as pro poker player while rehabbing injury

Landen Lucas started a foundation. Here’s one success story

Former Kansas Jayhawks player Landen Lucas speaks about his favorite success story from his foundation: A boy named Eric.
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Former Kansas Jayhawks player Landen Lucas speaks about his favorite success story from his foundation: A boy named Eric.

A nagging Achilles tendon injury figures to prevent third-year pro Landen Lucas from playing basketball during the upcoming 2019-20 season.

The July injury to the 6-foot-10 former Kansas center while a member of the Atlanta Hawks NBA summer league team will not, however, sideline the 25-year-old from another of his favorite activities — tournament poker.

After placing second of 252 competitors and earning $38,985 prize money in a World Poker Tour event that concluded Monday in San Diego, rookie poker professional Lucas in coming months will compete in poker events in Costa Rica, Bahamas, Australia, Las Vegas and other spots around the globe.

Some of these poker tourneys may wind up on TV and/or be covered by the WPT and World Series of Poker Websites.

“I started learning how to play when I was 10-years-old, watching TV. Phil Ivey was on TV a lot. I liked watching him. He’d wear basketball jerseys while playing,” Lucas said of 42-year-old Poker Hall of Famer Ivey.

“I learned how to play on my own watching TV.. I taught my dad how to play. I turned 21 and started going to casinos. I know I’m a pretty good player. If I play my game, I’m able to do well,” Lucas, who has made money in four of five WPT and World Series of Poker events the past month and a half (totaling about $50,000 in earnings) added Tuesday in a phone interview.

Lucas — he’s been concentrating on poker while also continuing to pursue a business venture called “Seeker” which helps customers choose the right insurance policy for them — outlined to The Star some of the traits he believes may make him a huge success in poker.

“It’s just like basketball. I like to try to outsmart opponents,” Lucas said. “This is the ultimate competitive stage. It (playing poker) allows you to do that.”

The Portland, Oregon native outsmarted all but one of the competitors at the WPT event in San Diego, ultimately falling to San Diego native Stafano Moreale, who pocketed first-place prize money of $58,480.

“He got pretty lucky,” on the tourney’s final hand in which Lucas went all in, Lucas said.

“But that’s how poker goes. You can be talented and skillful and play well and it won’t go your way every time. Play as well as you want, it will not always go your way. More often than not it will work out for you. You know that going in.”

Of his technique Lucas stated: “I like to feel I have good intuition and feel for things. I’m good at reading people. That comes in handy at the end of the day.

“In basketball what made me good is staying one step ahead of my opponent. That’s what I try to do when I play poker too. It’s something I’m fortunate to have come naturally.”

He’s quite comfortable at the table, sometimes wearing a KU hat and/or shirt.

“I like to rep Kansas as much as possible,” Lucas said. “Sometimes I won’t (wear KU gear) for the early rounds. Considering the coverage we were getting (in San Diego), I decided to go with a (KU) jersey for the final table.”

Lucas’ mom, Shelley, who has helped out with Landen’s “Seeker” insurance venture, as well as Lucas’ “Landen Lucas Foundation,” has been impressed with her son’s performance while playing poker against some of the top players in the world.

“I am proud of him. His ability to focus and his desire to always be challenged by learning new competitive strategies are what make him a great poker player,” Shelley Lucas said. “ I’ve heard him compare the strategic challenge and mental toughness needed for poker to the same challenges of competing and being coached in basketball or golf.”

Yes, Lucas is also a good golfer. He told The Star he’d like to start playing golf regularly as well as maybe continue his basketball career once he’s 100 percent healthy.

“Landen wants to be learning and improving in everything he does, or he gets bored. He is very competitive and always looking for a new challenge. I believe the strategies and skills he has learned in basketball, golf, and in poker all translate into the business world as well,” Shelley Lucas added.

As far as Landen’s basketball career ... the 2017 KU graduate has played sparingly the past two years in Japan, Estonia and Belgium because of injury.

“I suffered it (Achilles tendon injury) in summer league. I tried to push through it. I didn’t practice leading up to the TBT, played in the game and it wasn’t feeling right,” said Lucas, a member of a KU alumni team that lost its only game in the TBT in July in Wichita.

“Ever since I left Kansas it’s been injury after injury. Mentally as a competitor it gets to you. I have not ruled out basketball. It’s something where I need to take a break (to heal). I had some good offers overseas this year. Pushing through it and fighting through it is something I’m not feeling at this time and something my body isn’t feeling either. I’ve had to make decisions and when you make decisions you have to stick with them. So far it (card playing) has been awesome, a good start to everything,” Lucas added..

Lucas’ friends have noticed how he’s emerged as a force in poker. The WPT had daily articles and Twitter posts on the San Diego event.

“I’ve gotten a lot of nice messages and Tweets,” Lucas said, “not only from Kansas fans but a few former athletes in the poker community reached out to me. It’s cool to see support. It’s a totally different field than I’m used to. At the end of the day it is competition. I like to compete and learn things. Give me a chance to compete but also learn and get better and compete at the highest level whether in business, basketball or poker.”

Noted his mom: “His business venture and non profit (Landen Lucas Foundation that supports youth initiatives) both challenge him as well. He just wants to be improving and learning all the time. He is driven by strategy … that and the desire to win. He can’t tolerate losing or others who don’t care if they lose. He always plays to win.”

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