Langford’s mission — become Valentine

EAST LANSING – Of Michigan State’s four heralded freshman basketball players, Joshua Langford is the only one yet to show a glimpse of what he can become.

For now, he’s become the great tease of MSU’s roster — a McDonald’s All-American, technically sound beyond his age, with NBA size and off-court grace. He stands out in a layup line and draws comparisons to great MSU players before him.

“He’s got to be the Charlie Bell-type guy that can do it on both ends,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s got size, he’s got strength, he’s got brains. He doesn’t shoot it quite as good as (Maurice) Ager. He’s not quite as good of an athlete as Shannon Brown. But he’s got a little bit of everybody in him. He can do a little bit of a lot of different people.

“Gary Harris is a good example. He doesn’t shoot it as well as Gary right now. But I think he should be able to defend as well as Gary, almost as good of an athlete, probably better IQ, better with the ball, but Gary was a lockdown defender.”

So much for quelling expectations.

There is one former player, above all, MSU’s coaches would like Langford to become: Denzel Valentine.

Every player has a path to the NBA, assistant coach Dane Fife said last week. Langford has to be Valentine. “He can be Valentine,” Fife said.

It is both a lofty goal and a comparison that allows for patience. After all, Valentine wasn’t the Valentine you’re thinking of until late in his career at MSU.

Both are 6-foot-5, with athleticism but athletic limitations. Each plays the wing but has point guard skills — Langford as a ball-handler, at least. And both are gym rats who treat the game like oxygen. Langford didn’t stop sleeping with his basketball until he got to college. Why’d he stop?

“I just didn’t have one. And I can’t take one of these,” he said, looking around at Michigan State’s practice facility. “I have to leave these at the gym.”

Valentine and Langford are not the same personality. Langford is more reserved. More careful. Slower with an opinion. “I like to observe things before I go into things. Because I want to know what I’m getting myself into,” he said.

But both have an understanding of what the team needs and a willingness to morph into that player. Valentine went from role player to leading man to collegiate superstar.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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