Healthy Langford finally getting comfortable with Spartans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Five-star high school All-Americans don’t walk through the doors at the Breslin Center every day, let alone two in the same season.

So when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo landed a pair in last season’s recruiting class — forward Miles Bridges and guard Joshua Langford — plenty was expected of the tandem expected to be the cornerstone of what is arguably his best class in his 22 years.

Bridges didn’t take long to live up to those expectations before an ankle injury sidelined him for seven games. Langford, on the other hand, also dealt with an injury. The only difference was his hamstring problem cropped up just as the season was about to tip off, and there’s little doubt that slowed Langford’s progress.

For much of the nonconference season, the 6-foot-5 guard from Huntsville, Ala., was clearly not healthy, his leg almost dragging behind him as he fought to get back into playing shape. Not surprisingly, the production was inconsistent at best.

“I feel like my hamstring really held me back even though I was still playing,” Langford said after practice on Friday as Michigan State prepared to travel to Ohio State on Sunday. “I couldn’t do a lot of the things I wanted to do and I feel like I’m finally starting to get my comfort. I’m starting to get more smooth and everything. I feel better and feel way more comfortable out there.”

That comfort started to surface for Langford when he scored a season-best 15 points in a win over Youngstown State and followed that with 10 points a few days later against Tennessee Tech.

But it’s been the way Langford has played in the last couple of games — Wednesday’s win over Minnesota in particular — that is the first sign he is truly 100 percent. He was 6-for-9 from the field and scored 13 points, but most importantly, he was moving freely, no longer encumbered by the bad leg.

Izzo was clear how he felt after the game.

“Joshua Langford played his best game,” Izzo said. “He’s been better since Christmas and I think the biggest thing is that you don’t see the limping or the dragging of the foot. It’s been so hard for me to figure out these injuries and what it does to a kid. But, you see a more athletic kid getting to the hole, getting some rebounds. I just thought all in all he did some things, he ran the court, he came up off screens. And his shot, he’s got a great mid-range game. So, that was a big plus for us.”

It was a coincidence that Langford’s father was in town to see his son play, not so much a motivating factor. As Langford said, they still talk daily and his dad has been to a handful of games, but his play was more about how he feels on the court.

And there’s no doubt he feels better. Just as importantly, Langford is happy to see progress in his game even though some were wondering when the five-star was going to break out.

“Everything is a process and life is a marathon it not a sprint,” Langford said. “It’s just about what you get to it now how fast you get there. That’s what me and Coach Izz always talked about and that’s what me and my other coaches always talk about. Everyone has different paths. My path is different from Miles, my path is different from Tum Tum (Nairn) and everyone else on the team.

“It’s about where I’m going to get to and how much I’m progressing. All I’m looking at is my progress. If I keep getting better every day, if I’m growing in areas I need to get better. I feel like I am.”

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had his share of frustration. Bridges said he had to keep reminding his teammate to fight through his injury, a favor Langford has been returning to Bridges as he gets past his ankle problems.

It’s important, Bridges said, because Langford is a main reason the Spartans have such high expectations this season.

“Josh is a big key to this team,” Bridge said. “He’s a great defender and an even better scorer. When he’s on his game we can be a really good team.”

Langford’s next step is to perform consistently, something he and the Spartans are focusing on as they get set to face the Buckeyes.

And if Langford continues to make the progress he and his coach see, there’s no reason to think Michigan State will see any drop-off as a team.

“If you look at our track record, we’ll beat a good team or have a great win then turn around and kinda lose to a team we shouldn’t lose to,” Langford said. “That’s more on us. The Big Ten is a great conference but it’s really on us and how we come out and how much energy we bring and how much consistency we bring. I feel like if we lock in and stay focused we can win a lot of games.”

Michigan State at Ohio State

Tip-off: 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio

TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760

Records: Michigan State 12-6, 4-1 Big Ten; Ohio State 10-7, 0-4

Outlook: Twelve of the last 15 games between the Spartans and Buckeyes have been decided by 10 points or less. … Michigan State has won five straight in the series, including an 81-62 win last season in Columbus. … All five Ohio State starters average in double figures, led by junior forward Jae’Sean Tate (14.2 points), who ranks 14th in the Big Ten averaging 14.2 points. Center Trevor Thompson is third in the Big Ten averaging 9.1 rebounds and fourth in the league with two blocks a game.