On Friday night in New Albany, Indiana, the past and present of Indiana high school basketball converged as the Bedford North Lawrence Stars, along with assistant coach Damon Bailey, the State’s all-time leading prep scorer, met the Class 4A top-ranked New Albany Bulldogs and star Romeo Langford. With Langford entering the contest just 354 points shy of Bailey’s record, media across the state took time to compare the careers and speak with both.
Naturally, some conversations eventually took turns in the direction of where Langford will choose to play what will presumably be one season of college basketball. When asked about the decision lying ahead of Langford, Bailey told the Indianapolis Star that going to Indiana represented a “great opportunity” for Langford, and added that he told the teenage star a few months ago that “if he’s planning on moving back to Indiana when he’s done playing, he’d be crazy to go anywhere but Indiana.”
That was certainly the case for Bailey. In southern Indiana, Bailey’s name still carries weight and still finds its way into a number of basketball conversations. Go to any gym in those parts of the state on a weekend and if the Bedford North Lawrence basketball team comes up in conversation, the questions that follow won’t be about whether the Stars have a shot at winning the sectional or how the community feels about the second-year coach. The questions will be about whether Bailey’s son is a chip off the old block, whether he has the talent to play Division-I basketball, and whether Damon will end up coaching the Stars before his son’s career ends just as he did with the school’s girls program.
But when I say “those parts,” the area I am discussing stops somewhere around Orange County. South of there, you’re as likely to find a Kentucky or Louisville fan as you are an Indiana fan. And New Albany is no different.
For Bailey, he would have been crazy to go elsewhere. Aside from the fact that he grew up during the glory days of Bob Knight’s Bloomington tenure and that four years at Indiana would provide him plenty of opportunities to find his way to the Final Four and contend for a national title, Bailey planned to return to southern Indiana. But not just to southern Indiana, but the part of the area where its cream and crimson or get the hell out of here.
That’s not the world Romeo Langford lives in, though. For one, Langford will likely play just one season of college basketball. Will a single season in Bloomington provide him an opportunity to play in a Final Four and contend for a national title? It seems unlikely at this point in Archie Miller’s rebuild, unless Langford transcends even the outlandish expectations Hoosier fans will have of him if he were to don the candystripes.
But what may be missed in this is that Langford probably isn’t an Indiana fan. Maybe he never imagined playing anywhere but Louisville - this we will never know thanks to the scandal across the river from his hometown.
Even so, if Langford has thought about being a Hoosier before Louisville found itself up to its ears in hot water, for one season, there are other viable options out there. Go to Kansas and be the best player on one of the nation’s five or six best teams. Go to Vanderbilt, and be part of a four-headed freshman monster like a John Calipari Kentucky team that will get Ben-Simmons-like treatment from ESPN.
When asked about playing with other phenomenal freshmen at Vanderbilt, Langford told the Tennesseean, “Great players like to play with other great players. I think that only makes you better.”
But for all the things that have been said by Langford, his family, his friends, and anyone else with an opinion on the subject, it’s what hasn’t been said that should concern Indiana fans. In fact, it’s what hasn’t been said that should serve as the writing on the wall.
Because what hasn’t been said is “I’m going to play at Indiana University.”
Langford says he will wait until the McDonald’s All-American game, or even slightly thereafter, to make his announcement. Well, he actually says that’s when he’ll make his decision, but even if Langford had been determined his entire life to play basketball at Louisville and the scandals there forced a change of plans at the 11th hour, it’s hard to imagine such a decision hasn’t been made just three months before he graduates high school and settles in for summer workouts.
And this is where common sense and deductive reasoning enter the recruiting discussion. If Langford was going to Indiana, there would be no reason not to make the announcement.
Langford’s senior season has been something this state hasn’t seen in 28 years, not since Damon-mania filled gyms in every corner of this state and 41,000 people crammed themselves into the Hoosier Dome for the state championship game. And at every stop along the way, children and adults all dressed in cream and crimson have showered Langford with adulation and waited in narrow hallways for autographs, all ways to encourage the young man to play at Indiana.
You cannot find an account of Langford handling his stardom poorly. Everyone who sees it rants and raves about his maturity and the grace with which he has conducted himself. But would Indiana fans act accordingly if it was announced publicly that Langford was going to Kansas or Vanderbilt? The answer is almost certainly “no.” The gyms would still be full, but it would be a celebratory tour no more. The adulation and applause would be replaced by boos and hatefulness. And why would a kid and a family voluntarily subject themselves to that?
Why is Langford waiting until the McDonald’s All-American game to make his decision? I’d bet dollars to doughnuts it’s because when that date rolls around, the only games he will ever have to play in this state again are when the Indiana All-Stars play Kentucky this summer and when Langford visits the Pacers a time or two each season during his NBA career. Indeed, I’d contend it’s because Romeo Langford isn’t coming to Indiana.
Let’s all hope I’m wrong.