Romeo Langford entered the timeout huddle, his team down big, and the impression he got was that his coach wasn’t in control.
This was during a tournament last summer, and Langford, one of the nation’s top recruits, was playing for the USA’s under-19 squad.
His coach was Kentucky’s John Calipari.
Romeo later told his father, Tim Langford, that Calipari “couldn’t adapt to what was going on against Canada,” Tim said.
What happened in the weeks following the United States’ bronze-medal showing at the FIBA World Cup continued the progression of Romeo’s young career, empowering him to adequately deal with the ups and downs of a high-profile recruitment including major colleges like Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and others.
The United States lost 99-87 to Canada in July, the first time since 2011 Team USA didn’t win gold. Langford appeared in only five of eight games and averaged a team-low 5.8 minutes.
Tim moved to defend his son in a phone call to Calipari.
Tim said Calipari, who selected Romeo to play for his U-19 Team USA at the World Cup in Egypt, told the Langford family months earlier in their New Albany, Indiana, home he couldn’t wait to coach their son, both internationally and potentially at Kentucky.
Tim said he didn’t like what he saw. He didn’t see what Calipari said was going to happen.
“I just told him, ‘You came in our house, said you couldn’t wait to coach our son and do this and that. You had the opportunity before his back started bothering him. I didn’t appreciate it because you said you wanted to coach him and you had the chance to do it.'”
Romeo cooled the situation.
He told his dad, despite what he saw in the huddle against Canada, he liked Calipari and wanted to keep Kentucky in the running for where he might play college ball. So Tim called Calipari again, asked to set up a visit in the fall and waited for the word.
“I don’t have to play the game,” Tim said. “Romeo does.”
Calipari never called back.
And with that, Kentucky ended its courtship of Romeo. Though Romeo and his father briefly differed about Calipari, the hierarchy for decisions during Romeo’s recruitment was established.
“He always knows his dad has his back,” Tim said. “The family has his back and he’s in control.”
As Romeo’s confidence grew on and off the court, so too did Tim’s and Sabrina’s trust in him to make his own decisions regarding his college recruitment.
After his list was cut to seven schools — Indiana, Kansas, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA — Romeo, Tim and Sabrina each wrote down a top three.
Tim admits his list included North Carolina. But Romeo pointed to something, which Tim didn’t disclose, that he didn’t like when he watched coach Roy Williams run his Tar Heels through practice.
“He said, ‘Dad, I’m not sure about that and me fitting in with this happening,'” Tim said. “That’s how zoned-in he is as far as each school, and he’s very knowledgeable of these coaches.”
Cutting Louisville last fall in the wake of Rick Pitino’s firing “was a no-brainer,” according to Tim. But when Chris Mack reached out to Tim last week on the same afternoon it was announced Mack would become the Cardinals’ new coach, Tim relayed the message to Romeo, who said he appreciated the gesture but that nothing really changed.
Tim figures at least 10 schools reached out in the past month in an effort to gauge interest in a potential late run for Romeo. Each time a coach calls, Tim says thanks and that he’ll let his son know.
“I try to keep my composure because Romeo’s so laid back with this and I’m so excited,” Tim said. “I’m ecstatic because I can’t wait to see him at the next level.”
With every detail dissected by Romeo, the list was officially cut to three — Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt — by November. And he’ll make his decision as the final part of a basketball journey that makes the Langford family proud.
“My three didn’t make it,” Tim said. “My wife’s three didn’t make it. Romeo’s three made it. So we made sure it’s going to be his decision. And the three schools that he has are three great universities, any way you want to put it.”