When Landis Spivey got frustrated that his basketball life wasn’t going the way he planned, and that perhaps he would never get the opportunity to play after high school, he listened to the calming advice of the one person who he trusted more than anyone: his mother.
While in high school, Spivey attended Aspire Langston Hughes Academy in Stockton, a charter school focused on preparing students for college. While academics were a top priority at the small school, sports were not. Spivey was a standout on the basketball court, but because of the school he attended, the looks from colleges weren’t coming. As he began to get more and more frustrated, Spivey’s mother continued to not allow her son to give up on his basketball dreams.
“I was just going to go to school (college) and be a student, but my mom told me to keep working and that it’ll happen and that I just need to be patient,” Spivey said. “And then coach (Rob) Hoyt came around and he told me that he loved my game and that he wanted me to come to Columbia.”
After two years playing for the Columbia College Claim Jumpers, Spivey got a scholarship to attend California State University, Fullerton and be a member of its basketball team. Spivey went from playing division VI basketball, to becoming a division I college player.
“I bet there is a very short list of people who have been able to do that,” Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt said. “For the seven years that I’ve been here, that accomplishment has to be near the top. He went from playing kids who were wearing sweatpants, to playing in the toughest league in northern California, to being arguably the best player, to being a division I player. That kind of speaks for itself.”
A small beginning
Growing up, Spivey loved basketball and he wanted to play for as long as he could. But when it was time for high school, he didn’t attend a school where the competition would be the best in the state. No, he went to a small division VI school who was in a league of other small schools. The decision for Spivey to attend Langston Hughes Academy was not initially a welcomed one.
“High school was a bit of a rough patch, because ultimately, I didn’t want to go there, but my mom made me go there,” Spivey said. “I had some doubts about going to the school because it’s so small.”
Spivey eventually enjoyed everything that comes with an active high school life. He made friends. He made memories. And he was no different than any other teenager. However, he didn’t feel like any other high school student when he compared himself to his friends, who played basketball at larger schools.
“I was definitely embarrassed,” Spivey said. “I have friends who played at Modesto Christian, Lincoln and St. Mary’s and I felt like I was good enough to play with them at that level, but I didn’t get the opportunity. So yeah, I was very embarrassed to say what high school I went to and who I played against.”
Regardless of who Spivey played against, there was no doubt that he was typically the best player on the floor. In 2016-17, his junior year, Spivey scored 515 points in 22 games for an average of 23.4 points per game. He scored a career-high 50 points in a 112-56 win over Tioga and scored 49 in a 104-41 win over Lodi Academy. In his senior year, Spivey scored 33.3 points per game in just 17 games. But even after scoring 1,081 points in two years, he didn’t get many looks from colleges.
“I think because of where I went and who we played against, is the only reason why people wouldn’t take me,” Spivey said. “I have good character and I do well academically, but I just think it was the people who I was playing against and the people who I had on my team who kind of hindered the college coaches from coming to see me.”
As time went on and there were no offers jumping off the page, Spivey began to question whether basketball would be in his future or not.
“When you are an athlete, your confidence has to be at an all-time high,” Spivey said. “But when people look at your school and think that you can’t play, it hurts your confidence. It made me mad and made me work a little bit harder. Not getting the looks that I thought I should get from college coaches took not only some confidence away, but also took some pride away. It hurt.”
But as Spivey wondered if he’d get an opportunity to play basketball in college, little did he know that there were people constantly in Hoyt’s ear trying to get him to notice the diamond in the rough.
A small junior college
Hoyt had heard the name Landis Spivey over and over during the winter of 2018. Former Sonora High School coach and current Columbia assistant coach Rick Francis got tipped off to Spivey from a friend and Francis passed the information to Hoyt. For months and months, Francis continued to mention Spivey’s name to Hoyt.
Hoyt then got a call from a coach at Liberty Ranch High School, who was coaching a high school all-star game in Sacramento. The coach wanted Hoyt to know about Spivey and with many people wanting him to look at this unknown player, Hoyt finally caved.
“At first, I was super reluctant,” Hoyt said. “Langston Hughes Academy, what is that? I had never heard of the school. But there were too many people telling me to check him out. So, I watched the all-star practice and in five minutes, I decided that I wanted Landis on my team. That’s without knowing his personality or anything else.”
While Hoyt may have wanted Spivey the most, there were still other coaches who had their eyes on the 6-foot, 3-inch player wearing blue goggles. The biggest difference was that Hoyt was ready to commit, while the others were not.
“There were some division II schools who wanted him to workout with them, but they just weren’t sold on him,” Hoyt said. “He worked out for a bunch of coaches and they saw the same thing that I saw, but they weren’t sold on him. When we were recruiting him, I wanted those coaches to pass on him and they’d be absolutely crazy to do so. When they did, I told him that when he’s done here (at Columbia), let’s make sure that these coaches who passed on you are kicking themselves for doing so.”
And just as quickly as Hoyt was sold on Spivey, the same was true in return.
“When you pick a school, you want that family feel, and coach Hoyt is all about basketball and family,” Spivey said. “His best interest was getting me a scholarship and getting me to that next level. It wasn’t that he was talking about winning a certain amount of games, he was talking about scholarships and that’s what made me want to go to Columbia. It didn’t matter where the school was located or who would be watching us, I wanted to play for coach Hoyt.”
Spivey left a small high school to attend the smallest junior college with a basketball program in California. Again, he had friends who attended bigger schools with more prestige, but unlike his high school days, Spivey didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to wear a Columbia uniform.
“I wasn’t embarrassed, only because I had so much confidence in coach Hoyt, and his program was on the way up and not on the way down,” Spivey said. “I wanted to make a name for Columbia and make a name for myself.”
For the first time in his life, Spivey attended a school where the opponents on the schedule were some of the best in California. In his freshman year, Spivey helped lead the Claim Jumpers to a 21-8 record while scoring 392 points for an average of 14 points per game.
“I was excited for the opportunity,” Spivey said. “I always wanted to play with that kind of competition and prove that I could be that kind of player.”
As he entered his sophomore year, he knew that the time was coming to choose a four-year university. For many, that daunting task can often alter a way a player performs. But for Spivey, he knew that the better the team did, the more looks he’d get.
“I was just thinking about the team and us winning,” Spivey said. “When you win, the college coaches are going to come. This year wasn’t about my own personal goals, rather, it was about winning.”
Columbia had its best year since Hoyt took over in 2013, finishing with 26 wins and one playoff victory. Spivey started all 30 games and finished 17.1 points per game and is fourth all-time in Columbia 3-point baskets made. And just like his mom always told him, Spivey never gave up and was soon rewarded for his years of hard work and dedication.
“Just like at Columbia, Fullerton has a family feeling there,” Spivey said about what attracted him to choose CSU Fullerton. “When I took my visit, they treated me and my mom very well. They saw so much in me and took a chance on me, when no other coaches did. That was the only school to tell me early that they wanted me, and they were going to offer me a scholarship right away.”
A big opportunity
Spivey plans on studying kinesiology and hopes to one day become a parole officer. But until then, he’ll try to lead Fullerton the same way he led at Langston Hughes and Columbia, because he knows he’s getting an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.
“I’m so grateful,” Spivey said. “There are thousands of kids who would want to be in my shoes today and they can’t. There are kids with disabilities, or kids who go to jail or other things can happen. I’m just so grateful for the opportunities that have come to me and I can only thank God for those opportunities.”
And when asked what he would tell young athletes who may be at a small division VI school and think they may never get noticed by larger schools, Spivey said, “Just keep working. That’s all you can do. I tried not to pay attention to who was recruiting who and who was calling me. I just stayed in the gym and kept shooting and let the chips fall where they fall.”