During New Albany’s post-practice film session Tuesday afternoon, coach Jim Shannon recounted the Bulldogs’ preseason scrimmage at Evansville Bosse in 2014 – Romeo Langford’s freshman year.
Shannon said New Albany’s then first-year phenom, given his combination of size and scoring ability, oozed star potential from the get-go. Star treatment, however, eluded Langford in the Bulldogs’ controlled scrimmage at Bosse. The New Albany win, Shannon said, began with its eventual five-star guard on the bench.
The Bulldogs’ 19-year coach asked the freshman Langford to earn his spot in the starting lineup. Turns out, it didn’t take long for Romeo to force Shannon’s hand.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to start you tonight,’” Shannon said. “’Make sure you earn your spot. Let the other kids feel like I made you earn your spot. But I feel like, when it’s over, you will have earned it.’ I think he had 25 points and 12 rebounds and four blocks. It was like Mr. Obvious just spoke. That was it. From then on, I knew he’d be breaking all kinds of records.”
Shannon wasn’t wrong. Already New Albany’s all-time leading scorer, the junior became the state’s 49th player to eclipse the 2,000-point plateau in this past weekend’s sectional championship, and he currently holds the No. 47 spot on Indiana’s all-time scoring list with 2,014 points.
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Langford, averaging a shade under 29 points per game this season ahead of the Bulldogs’ Seymour Regional appearance on Saturday, is 143 points away from cracking the top 20. But the standout said he’s not chasing records.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Langford said of his 2,000th point. “Not too many people get that, but I don’t really pay attention to how many points I have.”
Instead of keeping tabs on personal goals, Shannon said, Langford has focused primarily on continued team success. Behind 30 points and nine rebounds per game a season ago, he paced New Albany to its second state title and first since 1973. In three seasons since Langford’s arrival, the Bulldogs are 74-7.
“He’s not infatuated with all (the records),” Shannon said. “Obviously he’s proud, but he’s not infatuated with it. So I don’t have to deal with his ego. … He’s not like that. He’s not chasing anything. He’s chasing a state championship. And what good news that is for the coaching staff. He makes us very proud.”
Langford warrants praise off the court as much as he does on it. Romeo’s name is written all over the Bulldogs’ record books, but the 17-year-old never puts himself above his fans. He routinely greets them after each game, fulfilling nearly every request.
A grounded star, the junior credits his parents for his modest demeanor.
“They know I don’t have a big head, so they don’t stay on me like that,” Langford said. “But they know, if they see something different, to bring it up to me. They really are the reason I am who I am. Because of how they raised me.”
Langford and the top-ranked Bulldogs earned a trip to Saturday’s regional semifinals at Seymour by way of their fourth straight sectional title. New Albany (24-3) will meet Center Grove (17-7) at 10 a.m. The winner advances to the regional final at 8 p.m. that night versus No. 8 Castle (22-3) or Bloomington South (22-4).
The Bulldogs, who own 17 regional titles all-time, have reached the regional semifinals in each of the past three seasons. That experience, Langford said, could pay dividends.
“We know what to expect coming into the early game,” Langford said. “We’ve made regionals all three of my years, so we know what time we have to get up, and we know we have to bring it. If we do make it to the second game, we know that whoever comes out with the most energy, the one who’s not tired from the first game, is the one who’s going to be on top.”
New Albany has won 21 of its past 22 games, with the lone loss at Columbus East. The Bulldogs were without Langford, who was nursing a dislocated finger. Since his return, they’ve belted out eight straight. New Albany won its three sectional games by an average of 28 points with the help of 26.7 per game from Romeo.
Shannon said Langford’s focus never wavered despite being sidelined due to injury. That “locked-in” mentality, he added, was evident in the New Albany standout from the first day he joined the team. And despite the record-breaking performances, personal accolades and eye-popping statistics, Romeo’s only priority is another trophy.
“I block all that out,” Langford said. “It’s the same thing every day, but now there’s more on the line.”