Why Romeo Langford's top colleges had to include Vanderbilt

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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Darius Garland hasn’t played one second of basketball for Bryce Drew, but already wants his future son to play for him.

“If he’s still coaching at that point,” Garland said. “He’s just a really good guy.”

That is a glimpse of why Indiana’s favorite Cinderella is IU’s top competition for Romeo Langford.

Drew has already compiled Vanderbilt’s first-ever top 10 recruiting class, building his program around a family dynamic and a seemingly infectious innocence. Langford, the top uncommitted basketball player in the country, is expected to announce whether he’ll play for Indiana, Kansas or Vanderbilt next season on Monday night.

Those first two schools are frequently in the mix for a recruit such as Langford. But Vanderbilt? The program rarely competes for elite talent, much less McDonald’s All-Americans.

“We’ve never made a Final Four and really feel like these young men could do that, reach a status around Vanderbilt and Nashville that would last a lifetime being the first to do it,” Drew said. “We really want these guys to create their own path and create their own brand.

“Sometimes getting the first (All-American or five-star player) is the hardest and hopefully when they come here and have great success, others will look at Vanderbilt in a totally different light and think that’s the place they want to be.”

Garland, a five-star point guard who is Vandy’s first McDonald’s All-American, considered Duke and Kentucky. Forward Simi Shittu, the second McDonald’s All-American to join the class, was interested in North Carolina. And now some have Vanderbilt as the favorite to land Langford, who is close friends with Garland.

Garland met Drew when he was in first grade. Originally from Gary, Ind., Garland’s dad, former NBA player Winston Garland, took him to a Valparaiso basketball camp — where Drew was coaching at the time — and the family quickly developed a relationship. Once the recruiting process began, Drew joked he never thought Garland would actually be good enough to play for him because he used to be small.

“He’s so laid back and jokes with you,” Garland said. “He’s a great coach and he had a lot of success at Valpo. He played in the NBA and that’s the level I want to get to. I know he can help me achieve my dreams and push me to get better.”

It might get lost in the heat of the Langford battle, but Drew is an Indiana native. He grew up in Mishawaka while his father, Homer, coached at Bethel College and was IndyStar Mr. Basketball in 1994. He and his brother Scott, who has been the head coach at Baylor for 15 years, loved eating at Hacienda when they were kids. That was before moving to Valparaiso, where Homer became the Crusaders all-time winningest coach in 22 seasons.

Drew later played for his dad and famously became one of the greatest March Madness icons when he hit “The Shot” — a game-winning buzzer-beater in the 1998 NCAA tournament that stunned Ole Miss in the first round. Drew was the 16th overall pick in the ’98 draft and played six seasons in the NBA before coaching for and then succeeding his father at Valparaiso.

Don’t underestimate the importance of Drew’s NBA career. Langford told The Tennessean he likes that Drew “has been in the league, run everything league-based and tries to implement what he got from (playing in the) NBA.”

Read the rest in the Indianapolis Star

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