Keith Langford found it nearly impossible to concentrate on basketball and his studies last week.
Langford, Kansas University's junior guard from Fort Worth, Texas, was mired in an emotional funk after learning Monday that his uncle, Robbie Mitchell, had been diagnosed with cancer in his kidneys and liver.
"Every day I came in the gym I just wore a mask and tried to hide it," Langford said. "It would not be fair of me, it would be kind of selfish of me, to be so down on myself I can't help my teammates. I have to help out with intensity and those kinds of things at practice.
"I can't let it hurt me on the court. It will give me motivation more than anything."
Langford, who struck for 24 points in KU's 90-76 season-opening victory over Tennessee-Chattanooga Friday at Allen Fieldhouse, planned to call his uncle after the game. Mitchell is receiving dialysis for his kidneys and is unable to have a transplant.
"I mean, I talk to him all the time," Langford said. "I can't do anything (for him). It's not like he is walking around moping. He is happy. He travels a lot. He's been to the last two Final Fours."
Langford also has endured pain in his sore right knee, and in the back of his head after taking a hard whack to the noggin at practice Thursday.
"I caught a knee to the head, thanks to David Padgett," Langford said with a grin. "I think I was (knocked out) for a second. I got hit and the next thing I knew Bill (Cowgill, trainer) is standing over me asking questions. I knew a knot on the head wouldn't stop me from playing."
Langford played 34 minutes Friday and was KU's top offensive player, making nine of 15 shots. He finished with 13 points the first half (after missing his first three shot attempts) as KU rallied from a 10-point deficit to lead, 42-30, at halftime.
"I figured if I'm not going to score, who is going to score?" Langford said. "I didn't want to put it on all the young guys, put them in a role or position where they are not yet comfortable. Even if I was 0-for-whatever, I was going to keep shooting."
Langford's teammates were impressed, especially considering the 6-foot-3 guard has had so much on his mind.
"His uncle and everything can mess with someone's head, but once Keith steps on the court I think he loses focus on all that and goes out and plays his hardest," junior guard Aaron Miles said. "Then after the game, he'll think about that."
Langford and his teammates will need maximum concentration to defeat their next foe. The No. 6-ranked Jayhawks will play host to No. 3 Michigan State at 8:05 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
"It'll be a tough, grit-it-out game," Langford said. "Diving for loose balls ... whoever wants it more and executes the offense best will probably win that game."¢
Little Langford: Kevin Langford, Keith's brother, did not sign with a school in the early signing period.
"He's got some good options," Keith Langford said of Kevin, a 6-8 senior from North Crowley High in the Fort Worth suburbs.
Langford recently visited UCLA, but has yet to receive an offer from the Bruins, who want to scout a game or two this season before offering. Langford also may visit California. He's had schools like Kentucky and TCU on his list in the past.