NEW ALBANY, Ind. – The Langford family stood in disbelief, in amazement in the hallway of their modest home.
Romeo Langford was oblivious to what had just happened. He’d been running through the hall when a mini basketball landed at his feet.
He scooped it up in his 4-year-old hands and he shot it toward the goal hanging on the door at the end of the hall.
Swish. It went in, from 12 feet away. Fluke.
Do it again Romeo, his sisters squealed. Swish. Again. Swish. Again Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again.
He missed his eleventh shot.
“That was when I guess we kind of saw something for the first time,” said his dad, Tim Langford. “But, you know, something like that doesn’t really predict anything.”
Unless it does.
Romeo started practicing from the couch. He’d drag that stand-up plastic goal his parents bought him for Christmas — after his hallway spectacle — all around.
He knew just the right spot to station it in the living room. He’d grab the ball, run and jump onto the couch and then leap off, flying toward the goal.
“And I’d just dunk the ball over and over,” Romeo said.
He loved to be airborne.
“Romeo just took off from Downtown New Albany on this one!” Bradley McKee, with Kentucky Sports Television, KSTV, tweeted Wednesday night.
A flying dunk in the second half of the McDonald’s All American Game that shook the rim. Romeo’s dunk. Romeo airborne.
The 6-6 New Albany senior scored 19 points, had six rebounds, three assists and two steals. He is the fifth-ranked player in the nation.
This week he showed America who Romeo is, how he plays, what he’s done. But America still doesn’t know exactly where this superstar came from.
Romeo is, arguably, the most popular person to ever attend New Albany High, located in a city of 36,000 that was established in 1813.
There is professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, a graduate of 1970, who won the Masters in 1979 and the U.S. Open in 1984. There is Joe Dean, a 1948 graduate, who is in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and was a color analyst for Southeastern Conference basketball for 20 years. And there is Billy Herman, who graduated in 1927, played second base in the MLB from 1931 to 1947, and then went on to be a manager in the league.
“New Albany is now known as Romeo’s home,” said Jerry Mason, owner of Cherry Valley Golf Course. “He’s that big of a deal.”
Inside a New Albany daycare last week, a teacher named Libby Fisher was asking the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.
A 2-year-old raised his hand: “Romeo.”
The team was down by nearly 20 points in the second half — Romeo’s fourth grade AAU team.
Coach Noy Castillo will never forget what happened next. He says it’s tough, really, to even put into words.
“He literally brought us all the way back,” said Castillo, who played 10 years in the Philippine Basketball League. “What stood out was not the offense, but the defense. He trapped and full court pressed — all on his own. He was everywhere. He worked himself into exhaustion.”
Castillo called a timeout to give Romeo a break. Romeo walked over to a trash can and threw up.
“Obviously, we knew he was good,” said Castillo. “But we had no idea how good he was going to be. In retrospect, it’s easy to see. You can look back and see.”
Romeo was more developed than the other 9 year olds. He had an incredible attitude. He was always asking Castillo for a harder drill to do. Castillo remembers thinking how unusual that was for a kid his age.
“He was unbelievable already,” Castillo said. “He was already really smooth with the basketball. And he could shoot.”
None of that was by accident.