Frustrating careers coming to an end for Michigan State's Langford, Ahrens
East Lansing — There was a point when it would have been hard to guess that Joshua Langford would walk onto the court at Breslin Center for the last time with his foot in a walking boot.
Of course, it would have been just as hard to believe Kyle Ahrens wouldn’t.
Yet, as No. 16 Michigan State prepares to host No. 19 Ohio State on Sunday for the final home game of the season — and last in the career of Langford, Ahrens, Cassius Winston and Conner George — that’s the position Langford and Ahrens are in.
Langford’s injured left foot, the one that forced him to miss this entire season and all but 13 games of last season, is still stuck in the boot while Ahrens, who’s battled injuries since before he came to Michigan State, will be moving freely and a key part in Michigan State’s quest for a third straight Big Ten championship.
“Poor Josh,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Nobody's been through more than he's been through and every time I see him I think what would we be like with him.
“And Kyle Ahrens, he’s been through everything. He's had more injuries since he was in high school, and I thought last year watching him lay on the floor against Michigan in Chicago (in the Big Ten tournament championship game), I thought that might be it for him. But he hung in there. He battled back. I thought when he got hurt at Gonzaga (in the preseason) that might be it for him. But he's kind of been what this team has been, we've kind of gotten up one more time than we've been knocked down.”
For Langford, the road to his final home game can only be described as bittersweet. A five-star McDonald’s All-American who was part of the class that included Winston, Miles Bridges and Nick Ward, Langford took time to blossom into a steady scorer as a sophomore.
It was 13 games into last season that he first was sidelined by the stress fracture in his foot. Surgery eventually ended his season as he watched Michigan State make a run to the Final Four from the sidelines. He worked back all summer and with the Spartans tabbed the preseason No. 1 team in the country, Langford was expected to play a big role. However, just two weeks before the season was to begin, Langford had a setback as a stress reaction sidelined him. By the end of the calendar year, another surgery had been scheduled and his season was lost.
“It won't be mixed emotions,” Langford insisted. “I'll be excited. It’s a blessing by God to be able to say that I'm getting ready to graduate from college. Not everybody gets to have the opportunity, let alone be able to graduate from Michigan State. So I'm just thankful and I'm grateful. I'm excited.”
There’s also some question whether Sunday’s game will truly be Langford’s last. When he first knew the latest injury would force him to miss the season, Langford said he did not intend on coming back to Michigan State next season. That stance has softened a bit and Izzo said he planned to meet with Langford on Friday to discuss the future.
“I still don't know,” Langford said. “I'm not sure yet. I'm still just waiting on God and just seeing you know, what's next for me? So I'm not in a rush, but at the same time I don't want to wait too long.”
Langford’s family will be with him on Sunday and he’ll certainly take part in the post-game program, however, he is fairly sure he won’t make a token appearance in the game. That could affect his eligibility if he did decide to come back.
Ahrens understands battling through injuries. He missed most of his junior season in high school because of a broken leg, an injury that lingered into 2015-16, his first season at Michigan State. Ahrens was 100% in the next season, appearing in 34 games and ready to make a big jump as a junior in 2017-18. However, a foot injury kept him out the entire year.
He was back last season but battled a bad back all year before suffering an ugly ankle injury in the Big Ten title game that sidelined him for the Final Four run.
This year has been a struggle, too, as a sore Achilles cost Ahrens three games in late January.
“I never thought I was gonna (make it),” Ahrens admitted. “I'm not gonna lie. It was a long time but when it does come you look back and you say, ‘Wow, that went really fast.’ All the memories that you go through, and ups and downs and lessons you learned, the mistakes you learned from. There’s just a lot. It’s just amazing.”
There will be plenty of family and friends from Versailles, Ohio, on hand Sunday. Not only is it Ahrens’ final home game, he’ll be facing his brother, Justin, a sophomore at Ohio State in the teams’ only meeting this season.
That part will be an added bonus for Kyle Ahrens. But the true payoff will be when he gets his chance to kiss the Spartans logo at midcourt.
“That is part of the reason why I wanted to come back,” Ahrens said. “I wanted to kiss the Spartan head. That one that one second is hours and hours and hours of work that you put into the program with your teammates and just being together throughout this whole organization. It's just it's amazing.”
Big Ten title picture
Remaining games for Big Ten title contenders:
Michigan State (13-6 Big Ten): Home vs. Ohio State Sunday.
Maryland (13-6): Home vs. Michigan Sunday.
Wisconsin (13-6): At Indiana Saturday.
Illinois (12-7): Home vs. Iowa Sunday.