Just a few days ago at the Michigan State Basketball Media day head coach Tom Izzo talked about the potential of his team for the upcoming season and about the few questions marks he‘ll have to face in the next few weeks. One of the biggest questions was in regard to Josh Langford‘s health. At the time he had just started to participate fully in practice after recovering all year from a stress injury in his foot. “Now he is definitely not the same player he will be in three weeks and not the same player he will be in December,” Izzo said. “We‘ll have to see how he‘s going to react to playing every day. I guess we will going to get the answers to those questions in the next couple of weeks.” Unfortunately, the answers came quicker than expected and they were shocking to Josh Langford, Tom Izzo and the entire Michigan State community.
The senior captain reinjured his foot and will be out atleast until January when he will be evaluated further. The news shook his coach noticeably as he approached the media on Tuesday to inform them of the injury. “At 7 o‘clock I had to go through the toughest part of my job,” Izzo opened just hours after learning that his team would be ranked number one nationally in the preseason polls. “I had to sit down with Josh Langford and the doctors and hear that his injury has resurfaced and that he‘s out till January.” Izzo paused for a moment, sending an empty glare into nowhere. “He‘s been the most selfless, committed kid with such a great attitude. He didn‘t miss a practice last year even when he was out, he never missed a trip. It is one of these things that breaks your heart. Thank God he has strong beliefs, he still believes everything happens for a reason.” Izzo paused again, mildly shaking his head and on the verge of tears. “You know Josh Langford is one of those guys who‘s given me everything on the court, off the court and in the classroom like almost nobody else I ever had. He has handled this way better than I ever could but I‘m going to support him in any way I can.”
If you listened to Josh Langford talking to the press about his injury soon after you know why he is held in such a high regard by his coach and why this recurring injury shocked Tom Izzo as much as it did. Langford was as upbeat a young man as you can ever imagine, referring constantly to his faith and how God will lead him through anything that is thrown in front of him. Mature, classy, steadfast and other words like that don‘t come close to describing how impressive he sounded for a young man whose athletic dream atleast for now has once again been ripped apart from him. “I‘m not dissapointed, I‘m going to be okay no matter what,” Langford said with a calm look on his face. “Basketball doesn‘t define me as a person but of course I‘m going to try to affect the team in a positive way. I‘m still thankful for everything God has did for me.” Those are the words of a young man who almost died when he was a little kid and along the way earning probably a much better perspective on a lot of things than many others have. A young man whose injury brought his head coach to tears the night it came out, something Izzo is not ashamed to admit. Someone who will be an inspiration for his teammates, by playing with him or by just cheering them on from the sidelines.
Nonetheless, Tom Izzo‘s team not only lost an incredible person for a serious amount of time, the Hall Of Famer also said he is very aware that the injury robbed him of one of his most important players on the court. The vision of a three headed backcourt consisting of All American point guard Cassius Winston, Langford and the emerging wing Aaron Henry for the moment won‘t come to fruition and Izzo has to find another way of setting his rotation. Langford‘s greatest strength was probably his outside shot and he would have given MSU an elite marksman who created a lot of space for his teammates just by being on the court. He also had developed into a top notch defender that in combination with Henry and Xavier Tillman would have handed Izzo three elite level defenders to throw at the opposition. All these things will have to be delivered by other players now.
During the press conference Tom Izzo talked about oft injured senior Kyle Ahrens and referred to him as “Josh‘s backup”. Unfortuntely Ahrens recently sprained his ankle in a (not so) secret scrimmage with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and will be out atleast a week according to Izzo. It is just another setback for a player who has dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout his entire career, most recently an ailing back and then a season ending ankle injury last year. There isn‘t one person in East Lansing who wouldn‘t love for Kyle Ahrens to make the most of this newfound opportunity and get a stranglehold on a starting spot in his last go around. Recent history reminds everyone though that it will be hard to really count on Ahrens being healthy for longer periods of time. That is by no means a reference to his ability or his heart but rather a harsh reality that a college basketball coach with lofty goals has to face.
Right now that probably leaves Izzo with just a few options at the shooting guard spot. He has considered sliding Aaron Henry to the two spot and play fellow sophomore Gabe Brown at the three as both positions are more or less interchangable in MSU‘s system. It could be a big boost for Brown, a player who had his moments last season but struggled with defensive inconsistency and his streaky outside shot. Apparently the upbeat Brown put in serious work over the summer, redefining his body and working countless hours on his offensive game. The combination of him and Henry has a lot of intrigue on both ends of the floor as they would probably form the most athletic and longest wing tandem the Spartans have had in years. Ballhandling and consistency shooting from beyond the arc could be a problem though.
The other option next to Brown is freshman Rocket Watts. Missing the early part of the summer preparation due to classwork has made the adjustment to college basketball tough on the 6-2 guard from Detroit but recently it seems as if his development has gained steam. Izzo is excited about his speed and athletisism, especially on the defensive end. Watts also played well against Gonzaga according to reports, even though his minutes were limited due to an Achilles strain. His talent is obvious but playing heavy minutes right out of the gate could be a tough transition for the freshman. “Rocket wants to learn but he doesn‘t always know how to learn and listen yet,” Izzo said. “He had a lot of different coaches and a lot of different voices in his ear in high school. He needs to learn to be more disciplined but he‘s working on it and we try to speed up the process. I think he can and will help us a lot.”
Somehow MSU will find a way to deal with Josh Langford‘s injury. The clear cut goal will still be to win a national championship in April, hopefully with a fully recovered Langford cutting down the nets after a great playing performance. But the margin for error just got a lot smaller. The Spartans will miss Langford‘s talent and especially his experience in big games. More than that though they will miss Josh Langford the person. That‘s atleast the only one Tom Izzo cared about on Tuesday and rightfully so.