East Lansing — While Michigan State is expecting to get freshman guard Rocket Watts back soon, there will be no such return this season for senior Joshua Langford.
The sharp-shooting guard underwent surgery on his injured left foot in New York on Tuesday and has been ruled out for the rest of the season, coach Tom Izzo announced on Thursday, a move that could signal the end to his Michigan State career.
“We'll talk about any other options he has when the time comes,” Izzo said after practice on Thursday. “But right now it saddens me a little bit because even though I did not — I was kind of honest with most of you that I did not think he would be back. But that saddens me because the kind of kid he's been. He’s just done everything we could ask of him and for him it’s been unfair.
“This kid means the world to me, and I think to our program from what he stood for religiously, academically, athletically. He was the workhorse of our team.”
The 6-foot-5 Langford has not played in almost a year, sitting out the second half against Northern Illinois on Dec. 29, 2018. At the time, the move was called precautionary but by the end of January, the Spartans announced Langford would have surgery to repair a stress fracture, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
After Langford appeared in just 13 games, Michigan State went on to win the Big Ten championship and earn a spot in the Final Four. With Langford set to return this season, the Spartans were picked as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
But just two weeks before the season, it was announced that Langford suffered a stress reaction in a different spot in the same foot and would be out until at least January. The recent surgery nixed any chance at Langford returning.
Izzo said this procedure was like the one Langford had last February but accomplished more in helping the bone heal.
“It sounded like it really went well,” Izzo said. “Not that the other one didn't, but I think they took it to another level with some grafting with some ability to get some blood flow to that area, which is really critical.”
Langford is back home in Alabama and will spend the holiday with his family. After that, he’ll be back in East Lansing to begin rehabbing as he chases his dream of getting back on the basketball court.
It seems like a long shot that he’d return to Michigan State next season — it would be a simple move as Langford would use this season as a redshirt — and Izzo believes the next step for Langford is likely exploring his options as a professional.
When it was announced in October that Langford would be out until at least January, he said he still intended for this to be his last season at Michigan State.
“I think there was a worry that he may never play basketball again,” Izzo said. “I think that is more gone. So Josh, I was hoping after this year to test his professional options overseas, the G League and in the NBA if he would have had a good season and I think those are still his hopes and dreams.
“Paint it any way you want it. I'm sure there's some fans out there that think he was popping back in in January and everything was going to be great. That wasn't how I felt, but it's way more of a positive than a negative because I think it's positive that his future in basketball is there, and for that I'm really excited.”
Langford, who did not miss a game through the first two-plus seasons of his career, a stretch spanning 83 games, was averaging 15 points and 3.6 rebounds a game when he got hurt last year. Over the course of his career, Langford scored 10.2 points a game and shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range.
It’s the sort of production the Spartans (8-3, 2-0 Big Ten) could use this season, not to mention the leadership Langford would have provided. It was something Aaron Henry looked forward to when he decided to come to Michigan State, however, their time together lasted only 13 games last season.
“It's tough, for sure. It’s really tough,” Henry said. “Josh has always been there for me since my senior year in high school. He's always been there, helping me through things and I really expected to come in and play with him this year. It was something me and my dad looked forward to, being on the court at the same time. But things didn’t happen that way and God has his reasons.”
As for Watts, the freshman who replaced Langford in the starting lineup, he missed his third straight game at Northwestern on Wednesday with a stress reaction in his left leg.
Watts is no longer wearing a protective boot and his been going through some drills but remains questionable for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan.
The Spartans have a long break before the next game against Western Michigan on Dec. 29, then it’s back to Big Ten play.
“He's gonna do a little bit more working out today and tomorrow morning,” Izzo said. “I'm gonna try to work him out a little harder, but 10 percent chance (he’ll play Saturday). The only reason I would do it, you'd say, ‘Well, why wouldn't you just wait?’ I think he's gonna need some reps so his first game back isn't going to be a Big Ten game.”