'I ran my race': Michigan State's Joshua Langford says basketball-playing career is over
Joshua Langford has played his last competitive basketball game, and it’s hard to find anyone who can say they don’t support his decision.
The Michigan State senior on Monday announced he will not be attempting to play professionally, nor will he be seeking a transfer to play another season at the college level, ending a five-year journey in East Lansing that began with lofty expectations on the court and became one of the more inspiring stories of perseverance you’ll find around college athletics.
“I feel like I went out the way that I wanted to,” Langford said. “I didn't necessarily let an injury dictate my career. I was able to persevere by God's grace and just kept going. At the end of the day, I finished. I ran my race.
“I'm just excited for the next part of my race, whatever that looks like.”
Langford’s journey was memorable in many ways, marked mostly by his ability to overcome a foot injury that led to two different surgeries and kept him off the court for nearly two years. However, there were plenty of high moments, too, including helping the Spartans win a Big Ten title as a sophomore and returning to play his final season in 2020-21.
“After the UCLA game ended, I felt at peace,” Langford said. “I wasn't excited that we lost the game, but I did have peace.”
For some, it might be hard to understand how Langford felt that way. His career began when he came to Michigan State as a McDonald’s All-American, part of a star-studded class in 2016. He was joined that year by Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward and went on to start 62 of 70 games through his first two seasons with the Spartans.
After 13 games in his junior season, Langford suffered a foot injury that would effectively derail his career. He had surgery in early 2019, sitting out the rest of the season as Michigan State reached the Final Four. He rehabbed throughout that summer and began practicing with the team before suffering a setback just weeks before the 2019-20 season was set to begin. A second surgery kept him out the entire year.
Langford returned for the 2020-21 season, starting 26 of 27 games while averaging 9.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 28 minutes of action per game.
Over five years and four seasons, Langford started 101 of 110 games, averaging 10.1 points and three rebounds while shooting 39% from 3-point range and was part of three Big Ten championship teams.
At numerous points along the way, Langford contemplated calling it quits.
“Oh man, I thought about giving up 100 times,” Langford said. “I even thought about giving up this season just because of how hard it was in terms of COVID and just so many different situations and challenges. If I was just being honest, man, I thought about it right after my first injury, right after my second injury. Those things and those thoughts definitely came to my mind.”
Yet, Langford kept pushing. He leaned on his faith. He remembered a phrase he always repeated as a small boy growing up in Alabama.
“Nevah give up, nevah give up,” Langford said, doing his best to mimic his childhood voice.
He remembered, too, his battle at age 12 with bacterial meningitis when doctors told him he’d never play high-level basketball. And he confided plenty in friend and former teammate, Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr.
“He talks about how the urge to quit doesn't necessarily mean you're a loser,” Langford said. “The urge to quit actually solidifies that you are a winner. Quitters don't necessarily get the urge to quit because all they do is quit. But winners get the urge to quit because all they do is win. And when I say win, I'm not talking about achieving high-level things, I'm saying just walking in a victorious mindset.”
It’s all made Langford the person he is today — a graduate of Michigan State with a degree in advertising management with a minor in religious studies and soon to add a master's degree in education with a concentration in sports coaching and leadership.
He talked Monday about all the former teammates he built relationships with, the coaching staff and even called the media his “friends.” He also highlighted the support he’s received from Tom Izzo over the years.
“He’s just been supportive the whole way,” Langford said. “He’s definitely somebody that I want to continue to keep in my life. I don’t want our relationship to end just because I'm not playing here or I'm not playing basketball and I think he feels the same. Whatever I do, I know he will support me.”
What’s next for Langford is still up in the air, or as he put it, he’ll “see where the wind blows.” He hopes it has something to do with sharing his journey with other athletes and suspects that will keep him around basketball. As for playing, though, he’s not ready to join the YMCA just yet, but said someday the “juices will get flowing.”
Instead, he’ll carry on in life knowing he got the most out of his time at Michigan State.
“There were so many different times that really helped me realize what was inside of me and what my father has always taught me, which was to always give all I’ve got and never give up,” Langford said. “So, that is what I did and that's why I can look myself in the mirror now and just be like, you know what? I'm at peace because I finished.”