New Albany's Romeo Langford is a highly-touted recruit being pursued by IU and others.
NEW ALBANY – The Langford family stood in disbelief, in amazement in the hallway of their modest home.
Romeo Langford was oblivious to what had just happened. He’d been running through the hall when a mini basketball landed at his feet.
He scooped it up in his 4-year-old hands and he shot it toward the goal hanging on the door at the end of the hall.
Swish. It went in, from 12 feet away. Fluke.
Do it again Romeo, his sisters squealed. Swish. Again. Swish. Again Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again. Swish. Again.
He missed his eleventh shot.
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“That was when I guess we kind of saw something for the first time,” said his dad, Tim Langford. “But, you know, something like that doesn’t really predict anything.”
Unless it does.
Romeo started practicing from the couch. He’d drag that stand-up plastic goal his parents bought him for Christmas — after his hallway spectacle — all around.
He knew just the right spot to station it in the living room. He’d grab the ball, run and jump onto the couch and then leap off, flying toward the goal.
“And I’d just dunk the ball over and over,” Romeo said.
He loved to be airborne.
“Romeo just took off from Downtown New Albany on this one!” Bradley McKee, with Kentucky Sports Television, KSTV, tweeted Wednesday night.
A flying dunk in the second half of the McDonald’s All American Game that shook the rim. Romeo’s dunk. Romeo airborne.
The 6-6 New Albany senior scored 19 points, had six rebounds, three assists and two steals. He is the fifth-ranked player in the nation.
This week he showed America who Romeo is, how he plays, what he’s done. But America still doesn’t know exactly where this superstar came from.
Romeo is, arguably, the most popular person to ever attend New Albany High, located in a city of 36,000 that was established in 1813.
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There is professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, a graduate of 1970, who won the Masters in 1979 and the U.S. Open in 1984. There is Joe Dean, a 1948 graduate, who is in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and was a color analyst for Southeastern Conference basketball for 20 years. And there is Billy Herman, who graduated in 1927, played second base in the MLB from 1931 to 1947, and then went on to be a manager in the league.
“New Albany is now known as Romeo’s home,” said Jerry Mason, owner of Cherry Valley Golf Course. “He’s that big of a deal.”
Inside a New Albany daycare last week, a teacher named Libby Fisher was asking the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.
A 2-year-old raised his hand: “Romeo.”
The team was down by nearly 20 points in the second half — Romeo’s fourth grade AAU team.
Coach Noy Castillo will never forget what happened next. He says it’s tough, really, to even put into words.
“He literally brought us all the way back,” said Castillo, who played 10 years in the Philippine Basketball League. “What stood out was not the offense, but the defense. He trapped and full court pressed — all on his own. He was everywhere. He worked himself into exhaustion.”
Castillo called a timeout to give Romeo a break. Romeo walked over to a trash can and threw up.
“Obviously, we knew he was good,” said Castillo. “But we had no idea how good he was going to be. In retrospect, it’s easy to see. You can look back and see.”
Romeo was more developed than the other 9 year olds. He had an incredible attitude. He was always asking Castillo for a harder drill to do. Castillo remembers thinking how unusual that was for a kid his age.
“He was unbelievable already,” Castillo said. “He was already really smooth with the basketball. And he could shoot.”
None of that was by accident.
Tim Langford saw his son chucking up the ball at 5 and 6 and 7 years old — making basket after basket — and he’d had enough of it.
So, when Romeo was 8 and in third grade, Langford started working with his son — intensely. He never once had to force Romeo to practice. It was never a chore.
Three times a week, he would take Romeo to the gym and work on dribbling, layups and practicing form.
“I wanted him to actually be shooting the ball, not just getting the ball in,” Langford said. “I would stand there and watch and I was like, ‘Man, he’s really good at this.’”
His first time playing organized ball was at Mt. Tabor, the elementary school Romeo attended.
It’s a deep orange and black brick building that opened in 1981. It’s hard to imagine this is where the Romeo magic started.
Just across the parking lot out the front door of the school is a Speed Queen Coin Laundry where patrons can wash their clothes or pay bills. The laundromat shares a rusty-sided building with a Subway.
Mt. Tabor, where Romeo went undefeated as a fourth grader until losing the championship game, is the largest of the nine elementary schools in New Albany.
It sits on 22 acres, surrounded by an industrial park, middle income homes, four apartment complexes — two of them subsidized housing — and a cemetery.
Across Mt. Tabor Road from that cemetery is a muddy, grassy area, abutting a graveled piece of concrete. Beyond that is a tiny, worn, bridge that leads to three basketball goals.
It’s empty on this day and raining. It’s quiet, but it’s also easy to imagine — to stop and hear the sounds of the basketball bouncing — and see a little Romeo playing his game.
During those elementary days, Romeo went mostly unnoticed. On occasion, people would come up to Castillo or Langford’s mom, Sabrina, after a game and ask about him.
But most in the city — the guy at the transmission shop across from the high school, the waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings and Mason at Cherry Valley Golf — first heard of Romeo in middle school.
“The New Albany coaches would come in to play golf,” Mason said. “They’d talk about how good he was. This kid Romeo is like nothing you’ve ever seen. I don’t think they lost many games at Scribner when he was there.”
It was at Scribner Middle School — and in summer AAU — where Romeo’s 30-point games started becoming reality.
Those were the days when Tim Langford went from, “he’s pretty good” to “he can really dominate a game.”
It’s when he started talking to his son about what might come in his life. What he could be. And how he just needed to keep playing.
“I told him not to worry about it,” Tim Langford said, “the exposure would come to him.”
The mail pours in. The knocks on the front door. Children want to know if Romeo is home. They want his autograph.
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Thousands have packed the gym of New Albany High, a school that from Vincennes Street is fronted with yellowish, creamy brick and dozens of windows that looks like an old factory.
Behind it, though, is where Romeo plays his game — inside a gym housed in a building that is sleek and sloped and modern.
Geraldine Hope, a retired hairdresser, went to every one of Romeo’s games this season — until the team lost in the Class 4A semistate to Warren Central.
“I feel like he’s a magical player,” she said from her front porch this week. “Heck, they know about him everywhere you turn.”
Romeo gets letters daily in the mail — photos of little kids in Chicago, New York, L.A. They want him to sign them and send them back, Tim Langford said.
“We have kids coming up to ring the doorbell at home,” he said. “‘We want to see Romeo. We want to see Romeo.’”
When those kids ask Romeo how he became so good, how they can be that good, Romeo has a solid answer.
“Every day, do something to improve your game, whether it’s just stretching, do something to improve your game,” Romeo said. “Also, have fun with it. If you don’t have fun with it, you won’t get better.”
The basketball world was almost talking about future NBA player Valentino Langford.
After having two daughters, Tisha, now 25, and Tiffany, now 20, Tim and Sabrina Langford were having a boy. They contemplated names.
A “T” name was the obvious choice, but Tim Langford wasn’t keen on Tim Jr. or any other “T” names. He said he started going into “my own little world.”
And he came up with Valentino.
“There will be no Valentino in my house,” Sabrina Langford said. So, Tim Langford added Romeo to the mix.
Romeo Langford was born on Oct. 25, 1999. And that little guy went on to be a quietly crafted superstar.
The major attention hit from outside of New Albany, the attention that took Romeo from hometown star to national name, when Romeo was in high school.
He was doing amazing things on the court. He had a flair. He made it all look so easy.
His freshman year, Romeo led New Albany to a 23-3 record and regionals. His sophomore year, Romeo’s feat was a 27-1 record and class 4A state championship, the first for New Albany since 1973.
In his junior year, Romeo averaged 28.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, leading his team to a 25-4 record. And on Nov. 21, as a senior, Langford opened up his season with a career high 48 points in a 110-36 victory over Charlestown.
Langford finished his high school career fourth on the all-time Indiana state scoring list, with 3,002 points.
All the while, he has remained unbelievably quiet, calm and grounded.
“I like playing, even when I’m not having a good game,” Romeo said. “It’s just my life.”
Romeo has been offered scholarships to play with the big guys: Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville. He is the highest-ranked prospect who hasn’t yet made a college decision.
He has narrowed his choice down to three, Indiana, Kansas and Vanderbilt. Tim Langford said his son will make a decision by the end of April.
“There is no pressure. We are not allowing the pressure to get to us. We have it in control,” Tim Langford said. “We could be on the other side, not anybody even looking at us or saying anything to us. So we just take it in stride. Take it as it comes.”
And they reminisce as a family often about how their Romeo came to be — though in that house where he first swished 10 shots in a row in the hallway, the word superstar isn’t thrown around.
“I’m still just a normal kid,” Romeo said. “Just a normal kid playing basketball.”
Contact Dana Benbow on Twitter @DanaBenbow or she can be reached at 317-750-7794.