Not that long ago I came across this profile of a former Indiana University basketball player:
- No. 8 all-time scoring list
- No. 5 all-time in assists
- No. 10 all-time steals
- Tied for the most all-time wins
- 43.7% career three-point shooter
- Big Ten Freshman of the Year
- First team All-Big Ten
- IU Hall of Fame
Legendary, right? Of course it is.
Believe it or not, there was a time when I managed to convince myself that this IU basketball career was a bit of a disappointment.
That’s the thing about hype. When it reaches mania levels, expectations become unhinged from reality.
After Sunday’s loss to Ohio State, Indiana head coach Archie Miller attempted to measure the situation that Romeo Langford was walking into as a freshman at Indiana.
“Very few people in the history of college basketball can come in with, number one, the hype, the reputation and the amount of responsibility that he was going to be handed,” Miller said.
Invariably, with so much hype and such irrational expectations, you will end up with takes just like this:
Even as a younger and much less emotionally mature college student, I’m not sure that I could have actually brought myself to type and send something quite that over-the-top.
But I was definitely complaining as my IU classmate Damon Bailey was compiling that legendary profile we started with at the top. Thank God Twitter didn’t exist in 1994.
Truth be told, Romeo Langford probably has it worse now. Much worse. Of course there is social media, and all of the mind-numbing insanity that accompanies it. But it is more than that.
Langford is essentially trying to contend with those same expectations that Bailey faced, compacted into what is almost certainly a less than five month playing career in Bloomington.
While there was always the thought of “how is Damon going to grow his game next year,” Langford is dealing with “is this all we are going to get?”
The New Albany native and former Indiana Mr. Basketball didn’t help his own cause by struggling out of the gate from the three-point range and the free throw line. It was fair to scrutinize and be a bit disappointed.
Slumps are something you work through, and they are hardly remembered over the course of a four year career.
When it’s just a few months — everything is magnified.
But here’s the thing — despite the incredible amount of hype, expectations and scrutiny of his every move — Langford is working through it.
After starting the season 15-of-71 (21.1%) in the first 20 games, Langford has gone 11-of-25 (42%) from 3-point range in the last four contests.
He spoke about his progress shooting the ball from long range on Sunday —
“I’ve been in the gym working on it since day one, and I feel like my three is coming back,” Langford said.
Similarly, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard has worked his way through some early struggles at the free throw line. After shooting 66.7% from the stripe during nonconference games, Langford has been at near 80% in league games and has improved his overall season free throw percentage to 72.4%
Miller sees a guy that comes to work every day and plays within the construct of the team, saying this in response to a question on how Langford’s freshman year has gone —
“Awesome…he’s handled it with an unbelievable team approach. He’s a learner. He works hard every single day….He’s obviously our leading scorer, and he’s gotten tremendously better defensively.” Miller said.
Despite the slow start shooting the ball, Langford is delivering on a national scale as well. For the season he has been hovering right behind another insanely hyped freshman in Duke’s Zion Williamson and his teammate R.J. Barrett in terms of scoring output by first year players.
Beyond the basketball court, Langford has shown a truly unique ability to remain unaffected by the constant circus going on around him. At least outwardly. On the inside, he no doubt feels the incredible weight of the expectations that have been thrust upon him.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable at all to think that burden occasionally seeps through and impacts his performance on the court. His head coach sees those freshman mistakes, but also sees a mature young man that knows how to persevere.
“But he’s a freshman, man. He’s a young guy. No one has handled it better than him in terms of being able to really not show when he’s frustrated or be able to play through some mistakes. and he’s also a guy that understands that there’s a lot of eyes on him, and sometimes he’s allowed to make mistakes. We’ve had to remind him of that throughout the course of the year. You’re allowed to play poorly at times, you’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re not going to be perfect.
He’s got a lot more ball to be played here down the home stretch.”
A lot more ball is relative. Sure, at least eight more games is still a lot as it relates to the course of a season.
But Bailey had those eight games, plus three more seasons. And even after those three additional seasons and a hall of fame career, it still felt to some like something was missing in the face of such insurmountable hype — at least at the time.
So it got us thinking. What if Langford did play four years at Indiana? Of course he isn’t, but what would his numbers look like? Would it change the perception of those that can’t seem to appreciate how well this 18-year old young man is performing right now?
This is what Langford’s IU career would look like if you extrapolated his numbers out to the same 132 game playing career as Bailey. And note, we didn’t give him the benefit of any growth in his current numbers — which is of course completely unfair:
- Points: 2,310 (3rd All-Time)
- Rebounds 688 (18th All-Time)
- Assists 313 (unclear, 323 assists is good for 18th all-time)
- Blocks 105 (10th All-Time)
With the benefit of a little statistical inflation, it is easy believe that Langford may have surpassed Calbert Cheaney and gone on to become IU and the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer.
Cheaney averaged 17.1 points per game as a freshman compared to Langford’s 17.5, playing on a similarly disappointing 1989-90 team that finished 8-10 in the Big Ten.
If Cheaney or Bailey had been one-and-done, their IU careers would have been viewed completely different at the time, despite really good freshman seasons.
Ultimately, their careers and Langford’s, with the benefit of a little perspective, will all be viewed the same way…
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