Next hoops star is here — and he’s just a sophomore

Wednesday evening marked my first-ever trip to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s awards dinner — and it was hard not to be at least a little awestruck by the sheer volume of Hoosier roundball legends in attendance.

As I strolled around and saw such former high school stars as Alan Henderson, Calbert Cheaney and Damon Bailey — guys I had watched play at the Joyce Center when I was a freshman at Notre Dame many moons ago — I couldn’t help but think about how we’d be looking at the current generation of Indiana’s high school stars a generation from now.

Perhaps it’s somewhat fitting that Bailey, the state’s all-time boys basketball scoring leader, was inducted into the Hall this week, because one of the young men playing in tonight’s IHSAA state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is drawing comparisons to Bailey and taking aim at his scoring mark.

I had heard a little bit about New Albany’s Romeo Langford, but I missed my lone opportunity to catch him in person this season because the Bulldogs’ game against Columbus East fell on Feb. 6, dead in the most hectic part of the girls basketball and wrestling postseasons.

After Langford scored 33 points in a 78-58 victory against the Olympians, I asked East coach Brent Chitty if the 6-foot-4 sophomore was as good as advertised.

“Have you seen him?” Chitty asked. I said that I had not.

“Go see him,” he said. “He’ll be at New Albany for two more years, then he’ll go to (college) for one year, and then he’ll be in the NBA.”

Chitty doesn’t gush about players too often, so I took that assessment seriously. And I finally caught my first glimpse of Langford last weekend when, frustrated by the implosion of my NCAA bracket, I took a break from watching college ball and tuned in to the online stream of New Albany’s Class 4A semistate game against Southport.

The Cardinals, mind you, are no joke — senior big man Joey Brunk is bound for Butler, and junior guard Paul Scruggs probably will head into next year as the Mr. Basketball frontrunner. I had watch them beat Columbus North by 41 back in late January.

Langford toyed with the Cardinals. He hit 3-pointers from all over the place. He drove and pulled up. He dunked. He had 43 points with more than two minutes to go in the third quarter before finishing with 46.

Coach Chitty wasn’t kidding.

Tonight, Langford attempts to continue growing his legend when his top-ranked Bulldogs (26-1) play for the Class 4A championship against McCutcheon (28-3), which features a pretty good sophomore guard of its own in Rob Phinisee.

There’s still plenty of scoring Langford needs to do in order to break Bailey’s mark — the former Bedford North Lawrence superstar poured in 3,134 points, and Langford enters tonight’s game with a mere 1,275.

But if he keeps going the way he has, Langford could end up in the uppermost echelon of Hoosier hoop heroes with the likes of Bailey, Steve Alford, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson and Rick Mount.

I’m already planning for Langford’s visit to Columbus East next season. Perhaps I’ll even be in attendance for his Hall of Fame induction someday, too. At this point, that honor is looking like a mere formality.

THE MAIN EVENT

Today’s IHSAA boys basketball state championship games:

Class A: Bloomfield (26-3) vs. Liberty Christian (25-4), 10:30 a.m. (Fox Sports Indiana)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Howe (23-7) vs. Lapel (25-4), 12:30 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana)

Class 3A: Evansville Bosse (19-10) vs. Marion (22-7), 6 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana Plus)

Class 4A: New Albany (26-1) vs. McCutcheon (28-3), 8 p.m. (Fox Sports Indiana Plus)

Fox Sports Indiana will pick up the 4A game in progress following the conclusion of the Pacers broadcast. All games will also be streamed online in their entirety at FoxSportsGO.com.

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The (Columbus) Republic, a sister paper to the Daily Reporter. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.