NEW ALBANY, Ind. – On a windy, chilly spring afternoon, the yellow school buses are leaving in quick succession from New Albany High School. Athletes from the track and baseball teams file outside for practice.
Inside basketball coach Jim Shannon’s office sits 17-year-old Romeo Langford. For the next half-hour he’ll answer questions about his junior season at New Albany, the possibility of breaking the state’s all-time scoring record and his high-profile recruitment.
Langford is polite, making eye contact as he answers questions. But what comes next, after the interview, tells more about this 17-year-old’s place in the basketball stratosphere than anything he says.
Walking down the mostly-empty and darkened hallway outside the New Albany gym is a familiar face. He was on national television less than 72 hours earlier, winning his third national championship. This is the first day college coaches are allowed back on the road for the recruiting period.
He extends his right hand to a reporter.
“Hello,” he says. “Roy Williams, North Carolina basketball coach.”
Langford’s recruitment is as good a place to start as any. Friends at school used to ask him where he was going. “Come on, Romeo,” they’d say. “You know where you’re going.”
That was early in high school, when Langford’s star first started to rise. Shannon would tell anyone and everyone how good this kid was. How good he was going to be. Then the offers started to roll in. From Duke. North Carolina. Indiana. Purdue. UCLA. Kansas. Louisville. Kentucky.
“After they watched him play,” Shannon says, “I didn’t have to sell him anymore. They figured out for themselves that he’s a jewel. I didn’t have to say anything else.”
The truth is, Langford doesn’t know where he’s going to college. Friends at school don’t ask much anymore. But when a coach such as Williams, less than three days removed from a national title, makes a beeline for New Albany with top assistant Steve Robinson, it’s clear this is going to be a big-time recruiting battle.
“I’m handling (recruiting) the same way I’ve always handled it,” Langford says. “This year, since it’s going into my senior year, I’m going to look into it a little bit more. Sometime down the road I’ll start narrowing down schools.”
Five schools, Langford says later. That list will come sometime after the summer grassroots season. He’ll be playing on the Adidas Gauntlet with Twenty Two Vision, a team primarily made up of players from northern Kentucky.
The 6-5 Langford is ranked as the No. 3 prospect nationally in the 2018 class on the 247sports composite rankings. There is no reason to rush a decision. Programs, even the blueblood programs, will wait as long as possible if it means getting a commitment from a player of Langford’s stature.
For now, the recruiting of Langford goes through his father, Tim Langford. Shannon also has a hand in coordinating visits and aligning schedules for when college coaches come to New Albany.
“We’re not going to let recruiting get out of hand,” said Tim Langford, who also has two daughters, Tisha and Tiffany, with his wife, Sabrina. “Coaches aren’t texting or calling him directly yet. They’ll come through me until he narrows it down and then we’ll start letting them text or call him directly.”
Langford doesn’t take many visits. During the high school season, he made a pair of visits across the Ohio River for Louisville’s games against Duke and Kentucky.
This week, he had his first phone conversation with new Indiana coach Archie Miller. Langford, who had been recruited by former IU coach Tom Crean, said he’s open to getting to know Miller and the new Indiana staff.
“(Miller) introduced himself and we had a quick conversation,” Langford said. “He said I’m their main focus. He said they are going to be following me around the whole summer with the whole coaching staff. He said they want to get me up there to meet the new coaching staff.”
For Indiana fans, a commitment from Langford would seem like a dream scenario even if he’s off to the NBA after one season. It’s hard to win recruiting battles when the competition includes Duke, Kentucky, Louisville and North Carolina.
“Indiana was already in the mix,” Tim Langford said. “They just made a coaching change. That happens. They are still in the mix.”
It’ll be a battle.