Assistant coach Ryan Wheeler sat on the New Albany bench, resigned to the inevitable and defenseless to stop it, as his spot in the record book was relegated to a footnote. His place in program history was being erased before his eyes.
Wheeler knew this night would come, when his school single-game scoring record would be assaulted by the sensational, unstoppable sophomore on the basketball court in front of him. Before he is finished, before he departs for the still-unchosen college program, Romeo Langford could arguably be the greatest ever to wear the New Albany uniform. And that’s saying a lot.
On Saturday night, Langford shattered the record with 44 points during a 113-39 victory over Scottsburg. That’s correct. Langford scored more points than the opposing team, and he did it in less than three quarters, hitting 17 of 20 shots.
Wheeler had to smile. New Albany coach Jim Shannon was ready to take out his star, but somebody informed him Langford was within striking range of Wheeler’s 43-point game – set in 2004 – so Shannon left him in for one more basket. It didn’t take long.
The reaction caught Langford by surprise. He was oblivious to his total. “I was wondering why everyone was going so crazy when I made my last shot,” Langford said. But Wheeler knew, and he was OK with it. After all, he had a front-row seat for the show.
“I could have been anywhere else in the world, but I was sitting there coaching,” Wheeler said. “So it was pretty cool. It was unreal. I knew he was going to do it, but in the back of my mind there was a chance he wouldn’t. But you knew it was going to happen. He was in a zone. And there was nothing I could do about it.”
Langford erased that record in his 39th career high school game. He still has 2 ½ seasons left. New Albany has a rich basketball tradition – five Hall of Famers, 15 Indiana All-Stars, a state championship in 1973. His trajectory, his potential, his talent mark him to join at least two of those lists.
“I can only imagine what it will be like a year from now, two years from now,” Shannon said, shaking his head. “What he’s starting to do now is assert himself even more.”
His last two games left a lot of people shaking their heads. Langford was 12 of 12 from inside the 3-point arc against Scottsburg. He had six dunks and 33 points the next outing against Charlestown. He’s averaging 28 points per game. He’s not just piling up stats against overmatched teams. He’s doing that to everyone.
Watch the kid, as Shannon does every day, and the vocabulary starts to shrink. How do you describe the 6-foot-4 athlete who seems to glide without effort, dominate without stress? He is so smooth, so poised, it seems he plays in slow motion. Don’t be fooled.
“It looks like that, but that’s just the way I play,” Langford said. “It looks like I’m not trying, but I really am.”
“There are times when he makes it look like it’s effortless,” Shannon said. “The effort is there. Do I think he has another gear? Sure. Most kids do. It’s up to us, as he matures, to find it. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to reaching his potential. That’s the good news.”
He has the full arsenal – the soaring slams, the pull-up from mid-range, the perimeter jumper. He never seems angry, taking advice from his father to ignore the physical contact and the trash talk. He rarely smiles until the job is done.
Being unaware of his approach to the record is not unique. Wheeler had no idea how many he scored when he popped Louisville Male for 43. The scorers are too busy to count, leaving that job to others. Shannon felt a twinge of guilt for leaving his star on the court for 23 minutes.
“I felt bad about having him in the game, but I’m not going to cheat that kid out of minutes,” Shannon said. “Any time you break a record, it’s a big deal, no matter who the opponent is, no matter the year.
“I don’t think the record is all that important to him. I think he respects it, and he’s proud of it, but he will come back and play like that game is over. I don’t spend an enormous amount of time worrying about his mindset. He’s not concerned by records. The great ones just play. They’re not concerned about what they did yesterday, they’re more concerned about what they will do today.”
What about tomorrow? Langford agrees with his coach, believing the surface has only been scratched, that another level exists in his game.
“He’s a great kid,” Wheeler said. “He’s possibly going to be a pro, and I’m OK with a pro breaking my record.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW ALBANY SINGLE-GAME SCORING LEADERS
44 – Romeo Langford, vs. Scottsburg, Jan. 16, 2016
43 – Ryan Wheeler, vs. Louisville Male, Feb. 11, 2004
42 – Virgil Casper, vs. Washington, Feb. 19, 1971
42 – Gary McCooe, vs. Floyd Central, Dec. 11, 1970