The Race for Romeo — KU, Indiana and Vandy all vying for 5-star guard Romeo Langford
As the calendar gets set to flip to February and the recruiting wars for college basketball's 2018 talent start to taper off, all eyes are on Romeo Langford, the top remaining uncommitted player in the 2018 class.
There are other prospects still searching for the right fit, of course. And a couple of them rank even in the teens among the top recruiting sites. Most of the rest are in the 25-65 range.
And then there's Romeo, at No. 5 in the 247 Sports composite rankings and No. 6 on Rivals.com's Top 150.
While many in the college basketball world are waiting to see what Langford will do, only three schools appear to have a real shot at the 6-foot-4, 185-pound shooting guard and scorer extraordinaire, who has narrowed his list down to a final three of Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt.
There is no exact time table for Langford to make a decision. Initially, it was believed to be slated for the April signing period and that still very well may be the case. But there have been recent rumblings about a decision coming sooner than that and coaches at all three of Langford's finalists are well aware of the importance of the next few weeks in their quest for the dynamic playmaker from New Albany, Indiana.
KU coach Bill Self and Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard were in Indiana last Friday to watch Langford and they were treated to a heck of a show, one that featured an alley-oop dunk in which Langford nearly went horizontal at the rim on the finish (1:48 mark in the video below). Videos of the moment showed that the dunk brought a smile to Self's face and inspired a standing ovation from Howard, who merely was joining the rest of the frenzied crowd that was wowed by Langford's athleticism.
In a recent interview with indystar.com, Langford's father, Tim Langford, told Zach Osterman that all three programs on his son's list of finalists had made solid impressions thus far.
The hope in the Hoosier State is that Langford will stay home and help bring Indiana back to national power status. He would be a cornerstone of new IU coach Archie Miller's rebuilding process and immediately would bring some serious local and national buzz back to the IU program.
At Vandy, head coach Bryce Drew is hoping Langford will become that player that puts his program back on the map. According to Osterman's article, Drew recently brought his entire coaching staff to New Albany to watch Langford play and gestures like that — which KU has made for plenty of players in the past and still could make with Langford — tend to go a long way toward catching a young man's attention.
And then there's the case for Kansas. Self loves the class he has signed already and believes that transfers Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore all will be ready to contribute next season after experiencing Kansas basketball as red-shirting spectators and practice players this season. And in Grimes and Dotson Self has the kind of guards that he so often desires, interchangeable parts with the ability to score and handle the ball while playing fast and furious on both ends of the floor.
What is uncertain is whether Kansas has a perimeter scorer in the wings to fill the void left by the departure of Graham and Mykhahiliuk. That's where Langford comes in and that's why Langford remains a priority for the Jayhawks. He is, by definition, a scoring threat from the wing and it's not hard to envision a scenario in which he competes for a starting spot at Kansas regardless of who returns and who doesn't.
So far this season, he is averaging 34 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists a game while doing virtually everything for his team night in and night out.
One of the most interesting things about Langford's recruitment is just how similar his three finalists are. No, Indiana, Kansas and Vandy don't sit at the same table when it comes to the history and exposure that all three can provide.
But they are each "perfect fits," according to what Tim Langford told The Athletic's Brian Hamilton in a terrific look at Langford's life as a superstar prospect in a basketball-crazed town. And because of that, the family believes that Langford cannot make a bad choice.
At this point, Langford already has taken official visits to each of his three finalists. So any future visits, which may or may not come, would be of the unofficial variety and would merely be another opportunity to check out each program.
He was at Indiana, sitting behind the Hoosiers' bench, for a recent IU win over Northwestern. And his father told Osterman that he plans to try to get to Vanderbilt again at least for a practice. It may be harder to get to Lawrence, with the distance and his prep schedule not always lining up, but Tim Langford told Osterman, “As far as Kansas, we just pay attention on TV and see how they run things, stuff like that.”
There was some speculation that a nationally televised game on ESPNU in January would inspire Langford to announce his decision then. It didn't happen.
And there's been recent talk, including in Osterman's article, about the idea of announcing his choice at the McDonald's All-American Game on March 28.
“If he had that decision, (he could) make that announcement (at the McDonald's All American game),” Tim Langford told Osterman. “But if not, we’ll wait until April.”
Regardless of when his decision comes or where it happens, it's clear that all three schools are still alive and Langford's focus, at least as of today, is more on helping New Albany win a state title before worrying about the next step.
As things stand today, with Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk headed out the door and Billy Preston's scholarship obviously available for next season, the Jayhawks are full.
Class of 2018 signees Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and David McCormack will take those three scholarships and Silvio De Sousa took this year's unused scholarship made available by the departure of forward Jack Whitman.
So in order to take on another player or two, which remains KU's goal, the Jayhawks will need to find a way to create a spot. With Udoka Azubuike, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick all having the potential to entertain their NBA options following the 2017-18 season, it's not a stretch to see one of those three players leaving. And there is always the possibility of a player or two deciding to transfer out in search of a new challenge or more playing time.
Regardless of how that all plays out, the numbers crunch and finding spots has never been an issue for Self in the past and there's no reason to believe it would be now if the Jayhawks were able to land a player of Langford's caliber.
At 12-11 in the Big Ten and 8-14 in the SEC, Indiana and Vanderbilt, though not officially eliminated from contention, are, at this point, unlikely to become NCAA Touranment teams this season.
While neither staff will stop charging toward that goal, their current realities at least afford them the opportunity to keep one eye a little closer on the Langford situation and give them an easy opportunity, if not excuse, to send more resources that way.
Kansas, meanwhile, is in the middle of its quest for a record 14th consecutive Big 12 title and, once again, is trying to position itself to be a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. That does not mean the Jayhawks will take a day off in the Langford arms race, but it does put them more in line with Langford, who is thinking more about the immediate task at hand and less about his future.
That's not to say reaching a decision is not weighing on his mind. In that, all four parties involved have something in common.
“It’s not stressful,” Langford told Hamilton of the recruiting process. “But it is something I think about almost every day.”
Be that as it may, Langford appears to be juggling all that goes into it wonderfully well. The small-school stardom in a basketball state, the constant questions from friends and reporters, the exposure, the attention, the elevated status as the guy who can turn around an entire program — all of it is a part of Langford's day to day life. And all of it is preparing him well for what comes next, regardless of where that may be.