MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Izzo had seen enough.
His Michigan State team had botched its out of bounds defense, and he felt another voice was needed to get the Spartans locked in. So he turned to his injured star, Joshua Langford.
“I said, ‘Josh, it’s time for you to take over,’ Izzo recalled this week. “So if you watch him on the bench, whenever there’s an out of bounds play, he’s getting the guys ready.”
Out-of-bounds defensive coordinator has been the type of role that Langford has been relegated to since a foot injury ended his junior season in December. Then, it seemed as though Langford might be the key to the Spartans’ success as their best pro prospect, but Michigan State has rolled all the way to U.S. Bank Stadium and Izzo’s eighth Final Four as Cassius Winston blossomed into a Player of the Year Candidate and the Spartans became one of the best two-way teams in the country.
That’s left the 6-foot-5 Langford, who was averaging 15 points per game and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, to contribute where he can.
“I just try to stay involved with my voice, reminding the guys and encouraging the guys, try to make sure they know we’re a great team,” Longford told NBC Sports. “I jumped right into it because I’m a captain on the team. I was already talking and doing things like that. As soon as I was on the sidelines, I just went right back to doing what I felt like I should do for my team.”
Langford’s reaction to his transformation from star to sideline hasn’t been altogether surprising to his teammates.
“He’s been very positive about it,” fellow junior Nick Ward said. “He’s very optimistic. He’s just been helping us no matter his status with the injury.
“Josh is very optimistic and positive person.”
He’s also someone who craves hoops.
“Some guys like the game, some guys love the game, and some guys live the game. Joshua is a guy that lives the game,” Izzo said. “He’s become a quiet kid that became a great leader last summer, and he still leads. That kid has not missed one second of one practice the entire time he’s injured. Even when he rehabs, he either does it right there in front of him or he comes in. H
“We miss him, but we have kept him involved.”
That’s why you’ll see Langford barking directions when Texas Tech takes the ball out under the basket Saturday night.
“I just try to remind the guys to stay down and focus,” Langford said of his out-of-bounds responsibilities. “I don’t really do anything with the defensive schemes. That’s the coaches’ job. I try to remind the guys what our game plan is. I try to make sure they stay down and ready because most of the times teams score on out of bounds because they’re not prepared.”
Langford, though, is dialed in to not only what the Spartans have to do, but what they’ll see from their opponents.
“Just telling us to get down, the plays that they’re about to run,” Ward said. “It’s always good to have reminders.”
It’s also good to have a guy like Langford, even if he’s in a walking boot rather than a pair of Nikes.
“He’s going to be one of those guys that, when he leaves,” Izzo said, “I’m going to be sorry that he left.”