The subject is Romeo Langford. The words you’re about to read are crazy, and not all of them will come from me.
Though some will come from me. Like these: New Albany sophomore Romeo Langford is now the third high school player – just the third – that I have to see in person before he graduates high school. Just to say I saw him.
The first two? Alex Rodriguez and LeBron James.
Told you. Crazy. And that’s nothing, OK? Wait until you hear what high school and college coaches are saying about Romeo Langford. Several Division I coaches who recruit nationally spoke to me off the record because it’s against NCAA rules to be quoted about unsigned players – and Langford hasn’t signed yet. Where will he play in college? Wherever he wants. The early favorites are said to be Louisville (located across the Ohio River from New Albany) and Indiana.
As for me, Romeo Langford is my new A-Rod, my new LeBron. In 1993 Alex Rodriguez was a senior at Miami Westminster Christian, the understood No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming Major League Draft. His team came to Brooksville, Fla., to play Hernando High. I was there. Guess who won the game with a home run in the seventh inning?
In 2001 LeBron was at the adidas ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J. He was a sophomore playing against the best players in the country, older players, including the understood best junior in camp, Lenny Cooke. Their teams played late in the week. I was there. Guess who won the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer?
Is Romeo Langford at that level? No, come on, let’s be realistic. LeBron is the greatest basketball player lots of us have ever seen. A-Rod is, or was, among the greatest baseball players. Langford still has to become what he will become. But what he is right now is must-see basketball.
And he’ll be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night, leading New Albany against McCutcheon for the 4A title. If you miss it, well, don’t say you didn’t know who – you didn’t know what – was coming to town.
* * *
A conversation via text message:
Me to a college coach: Tell me about Romeo Langford.
Coach: Oh, dude. Saw him last year for the first time. Best player in the state. Period.
Me: As a freshman? Was he the best player in the state already?
Coach: Best player.
* * *
You understand, players like this don’t come along every year. Great players? Every year. Check the list of Mr. Basketball winners in this state. Check the list of players who finished second. This state has great players, plural, every single year.
We don’t have kids like Romeo Langford. Not any year.
He’s a sophomore who is second in the state in scoring, and his trajectory is still pointing upward. As a freshman he averaged 17.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. This season he’s at 30.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg despite playing on the most dominant team in Indiana. New Albany leads the state in victory margin at 23.9 ppg, so Langford rarely plays much of the fourth quarter.
He is getting better by the week. His most recent game was a 46-point demolition of Southport, doing it despite the pressure of semi-state and the defender guarding him (6-3 Southport junior Paul Scruggs, with offers from Indiana and Purdue) and the rim protector behind that (6-10 Southport senior Joey Brunk, who has signed with Butler).
Langford was 15 of 24 from the floor. He was 8 of 12 on 3-pointers. He would have scored more than 46 points, but it was a blowout. He had 43 after three quarters.
McCutcheon coach Rick Peckinpaugh was watching on television, and he had this thought:
“If he plays like that against us, we’re in trouble.”
A few days later, Peckinpaugh had this thought:
“This kid is way beyond his years,” Peckinpaugh was telling me this week. “I’ve never seen a sophomore do those things he does. I’d have to go back to Damon Bailey as a sophomore. But he’s more athletic than Damon Bailey was.”
That’s where we are with Romeo Langford. Not just comparing him to the leading scorer in state history (Bailey scored 3,134 points for Bedford North Lawrence) and the No. 8 scorer in IU history (Bailey had 1,741 points).
But comparing him to Damon Bailey, with a caveat:
“… he’s more athletic than Damon Bailey was.”
* * *
A conversation on text message:
Me to a college coach: I’m hearing Langford was the best player in the state as a freshman. He’s better now, right?
Coach: Has made incredible strides offensively this year. One of the most improved players from one year to the next that I’ve seen.
* * *
Evansville Bosse watched the YouTube clip on the bus home from semi-state.
Bosse had just beaten Tri-West in a 3A semifinal Saturday at Seymour, but the Bulldogs weren’t celebrating. They had heard about the New Albany-Southport game – they had heard what Romeo Langford had done – and they needed to see it for themselves.
“We watched it together,” Bosse coach Shane Burkhart said Monday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where coaches from the state finalists gathered to meet the media. “There’s no facial expressions on the kid’s face. He never one time smiled. It was all business. It’s like he expected to do that.”
Bosse played New Albany back in December, and Burkhart devised a physical defense. Langford scored just 19 points (11 from the line), New Albany scored 58 overall – its second lowest total of the season – but won 58-51.
“I can tell you one thing,” Burkhart told me. “You’re not stopping him when it counts. He’s just got that extra gear. In high school, being 6-6 or 6-7, that’s a special player.”
Me to Burkhart: Did you say 6-6 or 6-7? He’s that big?
Burkhart: “Oh, he’s huge.”
Over to the New Albany table we go, to Jim Shannon, whose roster lists Langford at 6-4.
“Maybe,” Shannon told me with a smile, “he’s 6-4½. But he’s got an enormous wingspan: 7 feet. And he has a great vertical.”
Let’s talk some more with Shannon. He has more to say about Romeo Langford, the craziest stuff you’ve heard yet. But first …
* * *
A conversation on text message:
Me to a college coach: So, Romeo Langford. I don’t want to overstate how good he is. So you tell me: How good is he?
Coach: He’s a pro, as in NBA player. He may only see a year or two in college.”
* * *
Jim Shannon has been coaching for 32 years, the last 18 at New Albany. His 495 victories are 13th among active coaches in the state. He’s seen a thing or two, Jim Shannon, but he’s never seen anything like Romeo Langford.
“And I see him in practice, too,” Shannon was telling me. “I get the opportunity to see things you wouldn’t even believe.”
“Like shooting the ball three-quarters court, underhanded, and watching it go in,” Shannon says. “It’s just incredible how good he is – at almost everything he does – at getting that ball into the orange rim.”
What happened Saturday against Southport was so ridiculous, Shannon saw something he’s never seen before: He saw himself, 32 years as a head coach, forgetting to coach.
“I caught myself a couple minutes just watching him play,” Shannon says. “I’m usually so wrapped up in coaching my team and thinking about the next play, but there for a couple minutes I couldn’t believe how much he took over that game and where the shots were coming from.”
So what are we looking at, I finally ask Romeo Langford’s coach. Your kid is coming to my city. What is my city going to see?
Shannon tries to deflect the question. He knows what he wants to say. He knows how crazy it might sound. So this is what he says instead:
“It’s difficult for me to say, being his coach,” Shannon says. “It’s almost like asking his dad. What kind of answer are you going to get from me? I tend to be a little biased.”
Here, I tell him what the McCutcheon coach had said: Langford is like the state’s all-time scoring leader, Damon Bailey, only more athletic.
“I think the greatest compliment you can ever give is to hear the compliments coming from other people,” he says, “as opposed to from the people involved.”
But here it comes …
“I think he’s outstanding,” Jim Shannon tells me. “I dare say I think he’s as good a sophomore as ever’s played the game, anywhere, especially in our state.
“What he does from here on out, that remains to be seen. But as a sophomore, this state, this tournament – and I’ve been watching since the early 1970’s – he’s as good as it gets.”
See Romeo Langford play
Lanford and the New Albany team will play McCutcheon for the Class 4A State Championship starting about 8:15 pm Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tickets are $15 per session. This session starts with Evansville Bosse vs. Griffith-Marion winner at 6 p.m. for the Class 3A State Championship.