MSU's Langford maintains positive attitude despite being out until at least January
East Lansing — Joshua Langford hasn’t played in a basketball game since Dec. 29 of last year, and by Monday night he received news that would crush most college seniors.
A former five-star McDonald’s All-American who was being counted on to be a key part of a national championship favorite was told he’d be forced to sit out until at least January, his recovery from last season’s broken ankle dealt a setback with what is being called a “mid-ankle stress reaction.”
Yet as Langford took in Michigan State’s practice on Tuesday afternoon, it was the two-time captain who seemed to be telling everyone to relax. While sophomore Aaron Henry said the news was “one of the harder things I’ve had to take,” and junior Xavier Tillman called it “devastating,” Langford was the one doing his best to put things in perspective.
“I'm not really frustrated,” Langford said. “I'm a big believer that all things work together for the good of those who love God. … There’s always something on the other end of it, so I'm just taking it in stride and just making sure that I remain in my faith. At the end of the day, basketball is, I mean, it's not who I am. It doesn't define me as a person. Where I get my identity is through Jesus Christ.”
It was a refreshing approach, one coach Tom Izzo admitted was far better than how he digested the news on Monday evening, admitting that he shed tears over what Langford has had to endure.
It was just a couple hours after Michigan State had been named the preseason No. 1 team in the nation when Izzo said he was called to his office by team doctors. It was then that they broke the news to him and Langford — the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter and tenacious defender would be shut down for the next couple of months, at least.
“It’s one of those weird things that breaks my heart,” Izzo said earlier in the day, choking back the emotion. “Thank God he has strong beliefs, and while I know he's very, very, very disappointed, he still believes everything happens for a reason.
“I love Josh Langford. He's one of those guys that has given me everything on the court, off the court, in a classroom, like almost nobody I've had. He's handled everything a lot better than I would have handled it.”
The long journey began for Langford last year just four days after Christmas. Michigan State was hosting Northern Illinois in the final non-conference game of the season. Langford had started, as he has for 75 of his 83 career games. But after halftime, he was on the bench. At the time it was called a precautionary move.
By early February, Langford had surgery to repair his foot, ending any hope of a comeback. However, Langford didn’t disappear. As Michigan State won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, Langford was along for the ride, foot in a boot or propped up on a scooter. He was there, too, when Michigan State beat Duke and reached the Final Four.
Over the summer, Langford slowly started getting back on the court, and by the time practice officially began in late September, he was full-go. But a couple of weeks ago, pain gradually reappeared, forcing the Spartans to hold Langford out of practice as well as last weekend’s scrimmage against Gonzaga.
“It pretty much came out of nowhere,” Langford said. “I mean, there was a little discomfort, but it's normal. It just gradually progressed.”
And now, Michigan State is scrambling to not only face another chunk of a season without a guy who was averaging 15 points a game last season, but without one of its most inspirational leaders.
“It was one of the harder things I had to take just because what he's done for me since I've been on this campus,” Henry said. “We always talked about being on the court at the same time and those things never happened. He was my host on my official (visit) so he’s one of those people that I was always wanting to walk in his footsteps getting onto this campus and now that we're not being on the court together, I mean, it kind of hurts. But just being the person that he is and having his relationship with God there's no sad hopes for him. He’s doing what he's called to do and he keeps moving forward and never looks back because you can't move forward looking backwards.
"So, it sucks to not have him on the court but to have him around and even on his team still is a blessing and I look forward to taking advantage of this next step in his life and being able to be in it with him.”
Henry will, no doubt, be counted on more to help fill some of the defensive gaps left by Langford’s absence while freshman guard Rocket Watts will no longer have the luxury of taking his time getting used to the college game.
It certainly helps having preseason All-American Cassius Winston leading the way, but adapting to life without Langford isn’t getting any easier for the Spartans — at least, it wasn’t against Gonzaga.
“We knew it wasn't gonna be as easy out there with without him,” Winston said. “Some guys had to find different roles that they probably weren't ready for. It was a learning experience.”
The early schedule doesn’t give Michigan State much time to figure things out. It opens with No. 2 Kentucky, then features the likes of Duke, Seton Hall and likely Kansas over following weeks. And while Langford’s teammates know he’ll be OK, they still can’t shake the disappointment.
“You still feel bad because you still feel he deserves better,” Tillman said. “He was our gym rat. He was the guy who was in here more than anybody else coming in twice a day to work out. And then to see an injury like that it's like, man, when is his pay off going to happen?”
Langford remains confident it’s coming. He insists he’s able to do so because of his faith.
As for what happens in January, Langford’s not sweating that, either.
“If I come back and play, if I do, if I don't I'm still going to be thankful,” Langford said. “I'm going to be grateful for the many things that God is doing in my life.”
Langford said this month he had no intentions of seeking a redshirt after playing just 13 games last season and reiterated that on Tuesday, saying this was his last season at Michigan State.
Whether that includes playing games remains to be seen. Until then, he’s back to being a “coach,” and pushing his younger teammates.
“I’ve just got to keep encouraging them and allow them to understand that, you know, I'm going to be OK no matter what, no matter what the situation is,” Langford said. “We still have the same goals. We still have the same potential to achieve those goals. It doesn't change. This makes things maybe a little more difficult, but we went through that last year.”