For Vanderbilt, next season already feels like a dream.
The Commodores currently sit at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference as the only team with a losing record, but the disappointing aura that usually surrounds an underachieving team is nowhere to be found. Instead, there exists a layer of optimism toward the future, a hope that despite the imminent loss of three seniors, Vanderbilt can reinvent itself as a force to be reckoned with.
That hope rests on the shoulders of the nation’s fifth best recruiting class, a group that already features the two highest-ranked recruits in the history of the program in Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, in addition to another top-100 player in Aaron Nesmith. Yet, Vanderbilt’s work still isn’t done. For the third time this year, the Commodores have the opportunity to reel in their best recruit to date.
Romeo Langford is the number five recruit in the country, the top-ranked shooting guard, and the best overall player to still not make his collegiate commitment, according to ESPN. He’s also a virtual lock to be this year’s Mr. Basketball in the great state of Indiana, and is closing in on Damon Bailey’s high school scoring record. And like so many high school seniors at this time of year, Langford has yet to make up his mind on where he plans to attend school next year. The 6’5 shooting guard from New Albany cut his list down to three schools a couple months ago, stating that he’d play for Kansas, Vanderbilt, or Indiana next season.
Most of his statesmen expect Langford to stay at home and play for the Hoosiers, while others expect for him to take the usual path and play for a proven blue blood program in Kansas. The odd team out is Vanderbilt, and while the Commodores might be the unconventional choice, Langford would be best served playing his basketball in Memorial Gym come November.
Let me be clear: Romeo Langford will probably be one of the best players in college basketball no matter where he ends up next season, and will probably be a very talented NBA player at that. Having said that, it’s still an extremely difficult decision, one that might prove vital in navigating his way toward a professional career.
And that’s really the end goal here. Romeo Langford will not spend more than nine months on a college campus, and as long as no rule exists precluding one-and-dones, why would he? He is a pro-style shooting guard with an elite jumper and plus athleticism that has the potential to make an instant impact, not to mention rake in millions of dollars in the process. Why put that on hold? The question for Langford boils down to what school gives him the best pathway to the NBA? The answer to that question is Vanderbilt.
In the interest of Indiana basketball fans that haven’t slammed their computers shut by now or thrown my credibility out the window as a Vanderbilt student, let’s start with why he should not stay at home and play for the Hoosiers. For starters, Indiana is the worst team of the three options. Kansas is routinely one of the top programs in the nation, and Vanderbilt’s top recruiting class, compounded by the breakout play from Saben Lee this year, puts them a notch over the cream and crimson as well. Indiana is losing its top two scoring guards, and is nowhere near competing for a Big Ten title. Langford won’t be able to change that on his own, and therefore won’t get the same exposure that he would get playing for a contender, which could hurt him come draft day.
The part of playing for Indiana that would hurt him the most, however, is Archie Miller. I’m not writing off Miller as the coach of the future in Bloomington. He certainly seems like an upgrade from Tom Crean, but his brand of basketball isn’t one that would get the most out of Langford. Crean ran a system that leaned on his superstars to run the offense and make plays. When he had the elite superstars on the floor to get the job done (think Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr.), he was fine, but without top talent, he wasn’t able to win games. Miller is the antithesis of this. He runs a team with a 3-and-D mentality, one that prides itself on ball movement into good shots on offense and a feisty man-to-man approach on defense. It’s a system like this that allowed him to consistently knock off power five foes during his time at Dayton. While Miller has expressed a desire to create an in-state pipeline, it’s doubtful that he would abandon his system to create situations where Langford would be the outright focal point of the offense and have the ability to grow into that superstar role. Bloomington just isn’t the best place for Langford to showcase the talent he has as a high-volume scorer.
That leaves Kansas and Vanderbilt, and the prominence and consistency of the program give the Jayhawks an edge. But the pros pretty much stop there. Devonte’ Graham, LaGerald Vick, and Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas’s top three players, will all be moving on to the NBA, leaving Kansas with an unprecedented lack of veteran presence at the guard position. With the usually high expectations in Kansas, a lot of weight will be placed on Langford’s shoulders to keep up an improbable run of Big 12 championships that might reach 15 straight seasons after this year. That’s a high risk for a player who won’t have the help that fans in Kansas are used to, and it could hurt his stock. Additionally, Langford has a life outside of basketball. He can either spend it in Nashville or in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ll leave it at that.
If I was Romeo Langford, I’d be sitting at home in a Vanderbilt sweatshirt texting Darius Garland and asking him to be my roommate. That National Letter of Intent would be in my rearview mirror. He has the opportunity to play for a coach in Bryce Drew who understands the life of a Mr. Basketball coming from Indiana. Drew carried that distinction to a six-year NBA career with much less talent than Langford possesses.
Most of all, Vanderbilt is going to be good next year. Garland, Shittu, and Lee virtually guarantee that. Langford can not only piggyback on that newfound success, he can be the leader of it. He can be the LeBron to the Wade and Bosh that lie in wait. He is the best scorer of the bunch, and can lead a team with a high ceiling that is devoid of unreasonably high expectations.
In doing so, Langford has the potential to be the focal point of an adaptable offense. Vanderbilt might look like a three-point centric offense in its current state, but that’s largely due to the roster. At Vanderbilt, the personnel dictate the play. If we’ve learned anything in Bryce Drew’s first two years, it’s that he is a very experimental coach. He will give Langford the freedom to shoot the ball, and Garland, the best passer in this class, will put Langford in positions to knock down shots.
Sure, Vanderbilt might not have the history that Kansas and Indiana have. But Memorial Gym at its best can give Allen Fieldhouse or Assembly Hall a run for their money, and with the potential big three that Bryce Drew could real in, expect some Memorial Magic in the future. Langford has the opportunity to make a generational impact on a program and boost his stock in the process. But that only exists in one place.
That place is Vanderbilt University.