New Albany, Indiana native Romeo Langford is the best college basketball prospect in the country that has yet to announce his intentions for next season. It should be noted that Romeo has the skillset right now to earn a six-figure salary playing professionally overseas. But Langford has already indicated that playing college basketball is the desired route he wants to take in getting ready for NBA level competition. While it may seem like the most unlikely of fits, don't be shocked if Langford commits to Vanderbilt to play for the Commodores.
Sure, Vanderbilt does not have the prestige or winning tradition of blue chip programs like Kansas or Indiana, but they should be considered the favorite to land Romeo. Yet, it is also important to mention that with as much specualtion as there is around this decision, it ultimately doesn't matter.
Romeo's decision will impact the immediate future of a few programs, but it truly does not matter what he chooses to do. Barring catastrophic injury, Langford will have the chance to play professionally in the NBA following his mandatory year of development. NBA scouts already consider him to be a lottery pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NBA Draft having never played a college game. So, regardless of where he goes, his opportunity and substantial pay day as a player in the NBA is not that far away from becoming a reality. As Indiana high school basketball's 4th all-time leading scorer with over 3,000 points, he not only possesses the natural ability to play at a high level, but has the work ethic and humble attitude coaches and scouts alike want to see in players off the court. He seems to have remarkable poise for someone his age, being able to handle constant speculation, media attention, and criticism.
But in the end, the decision Langford makes in the coming weeks should be one that benefits him more than anything else. One program will emerge as the winner of the Romeo sweepstakes, but hopefully it will be Romeo himself who gains the most out of this choice. With that being said, the decision Romeo makes in the near future will have an effect on the remaining candidates vowing to land his services.
The three schools that remain in contention for Romeo include Indiana, Kansas, and Vanderbilt. Langford is coming off of a loss in his final high school contest against the eventual 4A state champion Warren Central. With his high school season now wrapped up, Langford has said his decision will be made toward the end of April following a sting of games he is committed to play in as a McDonald's High School All-American.
Yet, the teams that are still in the running for Romeo are anxiously awaiting this decision, knowing that Langford's talent will automatically make them a better team. The remaining landing spots each have their own fair share of perks. Indiana is an historic program that is in desperate need of a talent like Langford. Langford's presence on campus would provide an immediate sense of excitement for fans. Hoosiers head coach Archie Miller would also benefit greatly from Langford arriving in Bloomington.
Miller, who is going into his second season with the Hoosiers needs to show that Indiana's program is regenerating with budding talent. By adding a local phenom in Langford, it allows Romeo to stay close to home being from New Albany and gives IU supporters confidence that Miller can recruit top talent to Bloomington. Langford would also most certainly be the face of Indiana's program in his short stint with the Hoosiers. If Romeo wants to carry a program and be considered a local legend for staying in his home state, Indiana will be the place he goes to next season. As great as securing Romeo would be for the Hoosiers though, it seems like Indiana needs Romeo more than Romeo needs them, so don't expect him to be a Hoosier next season.
Kansas is another possible home for Langford with Bill Self and the Jayhawks being a finalist in his recruitment. Kansas and their ability to make it to the Final Four this season is definitely a detail the coaching staff will emphasize in any meeting with Langford from now until his decision. The Jayhawks know that with Langford's talent they could very well make it there again next season, if not win a national title. Langford was bombarded by recruiting pitches from three prospects already singed with Kansas at the McDonald's All-American Game according to the Courier-Journal.
The three highly touted weapons included C David McCormack, PG Devon Dotson, and combo guard Quentin Grimes, the 11th best player in the country. Grimes has been the most assertive in pursuing Langford according to the Courier-Journal.
"I think if Romeo would just come to Kansas it would be an automatic lock for the national championship next year," said Grimes, according to the Courier-Journal.
Grimes is excited about the potential of adding Langford to an already stacked recruiting class.
"We're just trying to pitch him that having three guards on the court will be deadly," Grimes said. "We all can guard multiple positions and can play all three levels out there on the court. Whoever gets the rebound could push it, outlet the ball to the next man and then really whoever has it can set up the play and get an easy bucket for himself or a teammate," said Grimes, according to the Courier-Journal.
Kansas is also on pace to lose seniors Devonte' Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and could potentially see underclassmen Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick declare for the NBA Draft. With four players of similar skillsets to Langford possibly leaving Kansas, that leaves a lot of playing time for him to not only improve as a player but to compete for a national championship.
The addition of Langford would also mean that Kansas was able to secure four top prospects from this year's McDonald's High School All-American game. Despite the winning tradition, immense surrounding talent, and stability Kansas provides with Bill Self as head coach, don't count on Romeo being a Jayhawk next year either. He will need to play more off the ball than he is accustom to if he goes to Kansas. As a player that needs the ball in his hands to be most effective, this is a factor that detracts from Langford's value. Langford would also need to battle for more rebounds inside with a smaller starting lineup at Kansas. While he did gather in rebounds at New Albany, with bigger bodies at the college level, he may not have the physical strength or stamina to do it consistently yet. Kansas would most certainly be a favorite to end up in the Final Four again with Langford. But the Jayhawks do not seem like the right fit for Romeo, knowing his best attributes as a player would be hindered in their system.
The only other possible place for Romeo to go is Vanderbilt, the team that should be considered the favorite to land his talent. Romeo in addition to his athletic prowess on the court, is a gifted student off the court. While it can be expected that Romeo will most certainly leave at the earliest opportunity to make his money in the NBA, he also seems like someone who sees the value in a college education. Vanderbilt has often been labeled the "Harvard of the south" being known as a highly prestigious and competitive university in a large city like Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt's rigorous academic standards are attractive to Romeo knowing that even when his playing days are over, he will have an education to fall back on when looking for a new career path.
Romeo also seems like the kind of person that has an "all business" type of approach when it comes to improving his skills on the court. The black and gold colors at Vanderbilt signify this mentality, much like what the San Antonio Spurs color scheme has portrayed over the years with Greg Popovich. Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew is no Greg Popovich, but he has generated some excitement around this year's team by recruiting the seventh-best 2018 class in the country, according to 247Sports. Drew has already landed two McDonald's High School All-Americans so far in SG Darius Garland and PF Simi Shittu.
Garland is one of the most important pieces to this puzzle for Vanderbilt because of his relationship with Langford. The two first met in eighth grade and played with and against each other each summer, notably on an Adidas basketball trip to Italy last year, according to the Courier-Journal.
"We just started getting really, really tight when we went to Italy together last year," Garland said. "We bonded and then when Vanderbilt got into the mix we started getting tighter," according to the Courier-Journal. In fact, Garland and Langford were both targeted by Indiana. With Vanderbilt already able to steal Garland away from the Hoosiers, they hope to also add Langford to an entirely revitalized roster.
Garland said he first met coach Drew in third grade according to the Courier-Journal. Garland who lived in Gary, Indiana at the time saw Drew as a young assistant coach at nearby Valparaiso, a program he eventually took over and led for five seasons before moving to Vanderbilt in 2016 according to the Courier-Journal.
Drew is probably best known for his buzzer-beating shot in the first round of in the 1998 NCAA Tournament, giving Valparaiso the upset win over Ole Miss. Drew would later become Valparaiso's first NBA first-round draft selection in the 1998 NBA Draft.
Drew's experience in the NBA and perseverance to get picked out of a lesser known school like Valparaiso is one of the primary reasons Langford is considering the Commodores according to the Courier-Journal.
"Just him as a coach, how smart he is and his resume playing in the league and he does everything based on what he learned to get players to the league," Langford said.
Coach Drew seems like someone Romeo can trust as a former player and intelligent coach. But they also share a deeper connection of both knowing what it's like to play basketball in the state of Indiana. Coach Drew has an understanding of how to approach, assist, and discipline these prospects if need be, better than most recruiters in the country. A coach and their connections to individual states can sometimes be a major recruiting edge. This is especially true when it comes to getting key prospects out of their home state. One of the best examples of this is Steve Alford during his tenure so far at UCLA. Alford, a New Castle, Indiana native has put a tremendous amount of energy and effort toward recruiting players from his home state. Prior to signing with Xavier, Trevon Bluiett from Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis was committed to play for Alford at UCLA with the Bruins according to ESPN.
Kris Wilkes who was named Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2017 from Indianapolis North Central also played for Alford at UCLA this past year and has already declared for the NBA Draft after just one season according to the Los Angeles Times.
So when considering possible candidates, it seems like Langford's personal connection with players like Garland and head coach Bryce Drew make Vanderbilt the favorite to land him.
Vanderbilt has also based their recruitment of Langford on the idea that if he commits, they will want to build around him. Not only do the Commodores say they want to build around Langford, but they are proving it, by finding equally talented complimentary pieces who already have great chemistry with him. Indiana is still three to four years away from competing for championships in the Big Ten. Kansas is always considered a top tier team in college basketball. But with the Jayhawks, Romeo would just be another weapon on an otherwise stacked team. While Romeo is a team player and wants to make his surrounding cast better, he also understands he's a star and deserves to be treated that way.
It seems like Vanderbilt with its pitch has provided the right amount of surrounding talent to compliment Romeo's playing ability. They have also supplied an adequate dose of personal admiration toward Romeo to make him feel like he is the missing piece to an otherwise finished puzzle. Coach Drew also seems like a guy who will advocate for Langford emphatically when it comes time for him to make that NBA jump.
In the end, the hype surrounding this decision does not matter, since it is Romeo who should benefit the most from this experience. But if it comes down to Indiana, Kansas, and Vanderbilt, it will be the Commodores who emerge as the winner of the Romeo Langford sweepstakes.
Jimmy Kennedy, who thinks Romeo Langford will pass on IU and commit to Vanderbilt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org