I still vividly remember the day.
Sitting in the Fine Arts Building during a large lecture class, everyone was eagerly checking their phones and paying even less attention than normal to the professor. Then, about two-thirds of the way through the class, there was a commotion in the middle of the room.
“WE GOT HIM. CODY ZELLER COMMITTED TO IU!”
Roars followed. And that’s no exaggeration. Everyone yelled and cheered. The remaining 20 minutes of the class were meaningless. Every student was conversing with one another. The professor eventually gave up and released us early. As we spilled onto campus, you could feel the energy and excitement.
Zeller’s commitment represented the next step for Tom Crean and Indiana basketball. The losing would make way for trophies. Seasons with single-digit wins would be replaced with seasons with single-digit losses.
For Crean and the Hoosiers, Zeller represented something bigger than the commitment of a five-star recruit. He was the gateway to the next level.
Fast forward seven years and Indiana is back in the same position.
The preceding years weren’t nearly as dire, but Romeo Langford’s commitment was more than just the commitment of a five-star prospect. For Archie Miller, it fast forwards the timeline and does so much quicker than Crean’s timeline (though to be fair to Crean, Zeller was the first big name he truly had a chance to land).
Langford is going to take on many faces for Indiana this season. Lead guard. Top scorer. Top draft prospect. Best player. He’ll literally be the face of the program this season.
He’ll be playing with a pressure he’s familiar with. Langford spent the better part of the last three years of his high school career with an entire state watching. He spent nights as the main focus of teams and defenses and still dropped 35.5 points per game.
The pressures will be different at this level. Defenses are smarter, gameplans are more thorough and opponents are more talented. The lights will be brighter but all indications are that Langford is ready for them.
But not only will the pressure turn up on Langford but Miller as well. As we saw with Crean once he landed Zeller, the lights also brighten on the head coach. The miscues overlooked last season won’t be ignored so willingly. Every substitution, set play and timeout called will be put under the microscope.
Unlike Crean, who had multiple years before the intensity was turned up, Miller has had one season to fine tune his system. But unlike Crean, Miller has talent at his disposal. If Langford is to Miller what Zeller was to Crean, then that means Indiana should be amongst the best teams in the conference.
Barring a worst-case scenario, Indiana should be that. In a weaker Big Ten, Miller’s Hoosiers should be able to compete. They’ll be expected to compete.
Because with Langford in the lineup, getting by isn’t enough anymore. With Langford, Indiana’s now relevant again. His commitment will go down as another “Where were you when...” moment in Indiana basketball lore.
Whether that’s the beginning of a legacy or the start of a “what if” will be determined in the next eight months.