'Yo, let's play': Michigan State's Joshua Langford forges ahead with highly anticipated return
Joshua Langford admits it took some time when he first got back on the court.
Time, that is, for him to feel normal, for his teammates to have that same feeling playing the game with him once again.
But a bump here and there, a hard foul or two, a running dunk and some reminders have Langford feeling like he’s hardly skipped a beat as Michigan State is now two weeks into practice preparing for a 2020-21 season that is still not set in stone.
“I think there was a little bit of reservation there (from my teammates),” Langford said during a virtual meeting with reporters on Monday. “But just me being me I'm like, ‘Yo, let's play. I'm out here. I want you to play me like I'm out here and I supposed to be here.’ So, definitely, there was kind of some reservation from my teammates but at the same time, with just kind of the way I play, I tried to just keep reminding them that, ‘Hey, man, look, if I'm out here play me serious, because eventually, I'm going to have to do it.”
Just the fact that Langford is in this position — preparing for a senior season — is remarkable enough, so it’s fair to cut his teammates a bit of slack. After all, Langford fessed up to some of his own uncertainty after two surgeries on his left foot have forced him to miss more than a year-and-a-half of basketball.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind,” Langford said.
And how could it not?
Langford last played in a game on Dec. 29, 2018. He started that night against Northern Illinois then sat out the second half. At the time, it was thought to be a precaution. Soon, the season was lost with surgery No. 1 and as Langford began practice last fall, a setback led to surgery No. 2 and full season lost.
So, yeah, there was some apprehension this time around.
However, it was clear early on that this time was different. It hardly guarantees perfect health moving forward, but Langford has looked like he did early in his junior season when he was averaging 15 points a game and shooting better than 40% on 3-pointers through 13 games.
“He's been pretty solid right now and I would say there's days that he looks like the old Josh,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said when practice opened almost two weeks ago. “Dunking and doing things that he really couldn't do last year. He's way ahead of where he was last year and I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic, for his sake and ours.”
But Langford isn’t holding back. He’s ready to play, as he’s reminded his teammates, and he’s confident the work he’s done with the training staff has him in position to make the most of his opportunity.
“There was kind of that reservation (when practice started), but at the same time, now I'm getting to the point to where I can just move past it and now it's just time to play,” Langford said. “I just have to get used to being out there again.”
Not only does Langford have to get used to playing again, the 6-foot-5 former McDonald’s All-American has to get used to playing with a set of teammates that look different than the last group he played with.
Juniors Aaron Henry, Foster Loyer, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham were there through Langford’s 13 games in early 2018, but they were playing sparingly at that point. Gone is Langford’s classmate Cassius Winston as well as Xavier Tillman, who had two years with Langford. And long gone are Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Now, Langford will be working to find a connection Rocket Watts, Joey Hauser, Malik Hall and others as he works to find a comfort level.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, but the good thing about it was that a lot of the guys that I'm on the court with, I still have a relationship with because of me still being a part of the team and me traveling with the team and me being at the games,” Langford said. “So we still have that chemistry off the court, which helps. It’s not as bad on the court. It makes it easier to adjust because we have off-the-court chemistry.”
That chemistry is sure to build over the next few weeks as Michigan State prepares for an opener, whenever and wherever that might be, not to mention against which team. That uncertainty was hammered home on Monday when ESPN said its plan to run a bubble of events in Orlando was off the table. Michigan State was scheduled to play in two — the Orlando Invitational and the Champions Classic.
As the particulars continue to be sorted out, Langford will take the time to try and be as prepared as he can, applying everything he’s taken in the past couple of years.
“Be patient, have wisdom with the process,” Langford said when asked what he’s learned. “Sometimes there’s certain things that I do in the court and I'm like, ‘Man, I could do that two years ago.’ Now I have to remind myself, ‘Josh, you haven't played in two years and the last time you practiced was a year-and-a half ago.’ So, all those things are going to come in time.”