NEW CASTLE, Ind. — The kids line up at the baseline, wanting to see him — you know, the him who averages 30 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists per game, the best player in Indiana, the one who’s only a junior and whose ceiling is scary high.
Romeo Langford signs autographs for them, then has to step away for the trophy presentation — he’s the MVP of the Hall of Fame Classic Championship, which he team just won — and they follow him.
After he gets his medal, he stands and signs some more. There’s a small throng around him, kids and parents and cameras, and they all want a piece of him. He steps away to take some more team pictures, then poses with more kids.
His team is cutting down the net behind him, but he can’t get over to them. By the time he does, it’s gone. So he walks over to the basket at the other end of the court. The kids and cameras follow. He cuts it down, poses for the camera and hands it to his coach. He can’t even get off the ladder. More kids surround him.
The game ended at 9:19 p.m.. It’s after 9:50 p.m. by the time he finally leaves the court, alone. He didn’t leave until the floor was empty. Not until every kid that wanted to follow him on Instagram knew his handle — and not until he promised to follow every kid back (getting a middle schooler to spell their Instagram handle? No easy task.)
It’s not just like this tonight. It’s like this every night. Jim Shannon is in 19th year at New Albany and 33rd year coaching overall. He’s never seen anything like this.
“Whenever we’re done with the game and I go to the locker room, there’s always a line of people waiting,” he said. “I always think they’re waiting for me. They never are. They’re always waiting for him. He gets it everywhere he goes. He deserves it. He’s a great kid.”
Langford is soft-spoken, so kids probably don’t hear what he has to say to them in a loud gym. And he has a shy demeanor, so he doesn’t smile much. But if you listen to the conversations, it’s clear that he takes his time. A kid tells Langford about his LeBron James autograph. Langford counters with a story about his Kobe Bryant autograph. The kid responds with a story about a Kevin Durant autograph, and Langford gives up. He smiles and moves on to the next kid.
“I kind of like attention, but I don’t let it go to my head,” Langford said. “I like to be respectful. With autographs, I don’t like to leave anybody out. If they want my autograph, that’s something for me. I like to take my time and get to everyone.”
To Langford, each kid he encounters is a new face with a new story.
“It doesn’t get old,” he said. “I’m making a different kid’s day every time I sign.”
Langford never did get a piece of that net. Maybe he doesn’t know. But his coach does. And as Shannon looks down at the net in his hands, he realizes something.
“Ah, he’s got enough of these.”
And the more he keeps cutting down, the harder it’s going to be to get off that ladder.