It's no secret Romeo Langford, the Celtics’ top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, injured his thumb playing for Indiana University last season. But what most don’t know is how his father’s influence at a young age helped shape the 6-foot-6 point guard into the player he is today – someone who played through an injury to help his team.
Growing up, Langford was inspired by his father’s love for the sport of basketball.
“When I was younger, my dad was still playing basketball around in New Albany, Louisville like in local three-on-three tournaments, so I used to go watch him play,” Langford told Kyle Belanger in an interview at the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 60 Days of Summer. “And then after he got done playing, I used to go home and try to imitate the moves he was doing in the house.”
However, it wasn’t that simple. Langford started playing basketball in kindergarten, but there was another sport that stole his attention for most of his childhood.
“That’s when I first started playing, but basketball wasn’t my first love. Football was. So I really was a football guy growing up until sixth grade, and that’s when I decided to make the change, not the change, but focus on basketball,” he explained.
Although his priorities switched, the lessons he learned in football were never forgotten – not even seven years later when he was recruited to play Division I basketball at IU.
When he tore the ligament in his right thumb, Langford had a choice: end his season and get surgery right away, or postpone surgery and play through the injury. For him, sitting out the rest of the season wasn’t an option.
“I just couldn’t do that,” Langford said. “It was really my decision, I really didn’t talk to anybody else about it, I made it right then and there. I just love the game of basketball so much that I couldn’t just sit there and watch my team play for like three, four months knowing that I’m capable of playing.”
While he made the decision on his own, it was likely influenced by the lessons he learned in his childhood, which stem back to his dad.
“That’s like, I guess you could say the toughness that I have, just to be able to play through injury like that,” he added. “That’s one thing my dad, growing up, it was one of the reasons he made me play football, so I could get tough and take hits and still be able to play, so that’s just the way I am.”
The effects of that decision have been seen this offseason. While Carsen Edwards and Tacko Fall were able to shine and prove themselves during Summer League play in Las Vegas, Langford was “bored” sitting on the sidelines unable to compete in any of the games.
It was recently reported his thumb is “basically” back to normal, which is a step in the right direction for the rookie, as he gears up for his NBA debut. But it’s clear that Langford still has a long road ahead of him as he recovers from the injury and works to transition his game to the next level.
“The best advice I got was from my assistant coach, coach (Tom) Ostrom, he said, ‘If it was easy to be great, everybody would be great,’” Langford recalled.
With that mentality and the willingness to “take hits and still be able to play” as a means to help his team, Langford has the potential to make a big impact with the Celtics next season.