Illinois coach Bruce Weber announced the signing of Devin Langford and sam maniscalco to play for his Illini basketball team this next season. Langford averaged 17.4 points and 7.0 assists as a senior at Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama.
He was first-team All-State as voted by the Alabama Sports Writers Association and the third-ranked Super Senior by the Birmingham News. He led Lee to the Alabama state championship his junior year.
"Devin Langford is 6'-6"-6'-7", is very versatile and has good athleticism," Weber stated. "If you asked his Coach (Greg) Brown, he always talks about his passing vision. He's a very good passer. Ironically, he would bring the ball up sometimes, played center for them this year.
"He just did a lot of things for them. He played everything. He averaged double figure rebounds, and he blocked shots. He can jump up and make a three, and he can get to the basket. He took them back to the state championship and lost in the finals this year. So they had an unbelievable run his junior and senior years with great success."
Langford's versatility makes him a candidate for playing time at multiple positions.
"What's his position? I'm not sure yet. It can be a lot of different things. I tell families, more than anything it's who you can guard that determines your position. I think offensively he's just a player. He can play from 2 to 3 to 4, but it ends up who he can guard."
Weber acted almost surprised to obtain the services of someone from Alabama. He shared the recruiting process.
"Devin Langford is a young man we started recruiting two years ago. Actually, his coach called and said, 'I have a player I think you'd be interested in. He really likes Illinois for some reason. His dad likes Illinois, likes how you play. It might be worth your time coming down.'
"I went down a couple falls ago to an open gym. Our assistants followed up a couple times. I think I went 3-4 times last year. They had a great team, won the state as a junior. We hung in there just to see what would happen but continued recruiting him in the fall.
"A lot of teams from his region began to get involved, and yet through the whole thing, he wanted to come to the University of Illinois. We're happy to add him to our group."
It appears Langford's dad has liked Illinois for a long time now.
"I think we're just fortunate. For some reason they like Illinois. They have the Big 10 Network, they've watched us. He talked a lot about signing early. I think if he signed early, he was gonna sign with us. But they wanted to just watch and see."
The official visit for the weekend of a fall football game sold Langford on the Illini.
"I think he was in awe. He's very quiet. Our guys kept texting and calling us, 'Coach, he won't talk.' I think it was a little intimidating. But then finally by Saturday night he let loose and enjoyed it.
"I knew his dad would have signed with us right away. His dad had a great visit. He would have hung out and stayed up all night talking with us. It was just a matter of getting over the hump getting Devin to say it was his school. His mom's approval was more than anything."
Langford looked forward to Lee playing in the Assembly Hall for the Shootout last December, but his game was off due to an illness. Still, his committed followed.
"He came up for the Shootout here. He was sick that day and disappointed he didn't get to perform like he would like to, but I think that was the finishing touch to it. After that he made the commitment."
Weber sweated out the final months. Langford never waivered, but nothing was certain until he signed his national scholarship tender.
"We only have so many times we can go down there. We saw quite a bit of him in the fall, so we were just hoping that the family was true to its word. I think Devin wanted to get away."
Weber said Langford may be shy, but he doesn't lack confidence.
"I don't think so, not at all. He's a talented player. I don't think he realizes how good he is. If you can ask me somebody to compare with him, I always talked to them about a Tracy McGrady kind of player. Tall, lanky, can handle, can come out. Is he a forward or is he a guard?"
Despite the obvious distance between Huntsville and Champaign, Weber says the trip is relatively simple.
"When I was at SIU, you were actually closer to Huntsville than you were to Chicago. Huntsville to here is really not that bad. They were surprised when they came up. Huntsville is on the northwest part of the state. You get up to Nashville, come over 24 and up 57. So it's three roads for him to here. It's an easy drive."
I'm excited about him. He's a good kid, a quiet kid. He's someone I think we'll enjoy having in our program. Great family. We're excited about adding him."
The 6'-0" Maniscalco's situation is different. A Bradley graduate with one year of eligibility remaining, the point guard is taking advantage of an NCAA rule permitting immediate eligibility for a graduate seeing a post-graduate degree unavailable at his original college. He averaged 13.1 points and 3.4 assists during his junior season but sat out his senior year after ankle surgery.
Weber explained the series of events that brought Maniscalco to the UI.
"I would say the situation is good for us, good for him. He loved Bradley, his dad played there. Of course, there was a coaching change. His family, some people that he knew, got the word out. They were looking to change schools for his fifth year.
"I knew his father, he helped coach AAU in the Chicago area. And Sammy played for the Wolves program in Chicago, played with Demetri (McCamey), Evan Turner and those guys. So we had some relationship, and a lot of guys knew him. We had some contact with him after the coaching change. He came on an unofficial visit to campus."
Maniscalco adds an element otherwise missing from the current Illini returnees. He is a point guard who is a good leader.
"We need some experience, we don't have anyone in that senior class. He gives us some veteran leadership, toughness. We played him a couple years ago in Vegas."
What Maniscalco may lack in overall athleticism, he makes up for it with a boatload of intangibles.
"You look at him, and you're not sure what he is. But when you play against him, you realize how tough he is and how competitive he is.
"The one thing that hit me as a big surprise, he told me he bench pressed over 300 pounds. When we had Deron (Williams) and Dee (Brown), those guys were shooting for that. Strength doesn't make you a player, but that toughness and physicality that he has will definitely be a nice addition to us."
Weber was asked whether he plans to hand over the mantle of leadership to Maniscalco by default. The young man may earn that with time without help from the head man. Weber wants to keep expectations down to give him time to acclimate to his new team.
"My feelings with him just watching him when he was coming up, and then all the conversations with people that have been around him, I don't think I'm gonna have to do that. I think he will just do it. You can't get a better person, you can't get a better leader, a more competitive individual. So I'm not sure I'm gonna have to.
"The first thing I told him when I talked to him, 'I'm not having you come here to be our savior. You're coming here to give us leadership.' He told me, 'I don't want to be the best player on the team.' To me, that was pretty impressive. He wants to win. That's his thing. I hope he can bring some of that leadership and toughness and winning attitude to us."
Before Maniscalco's commitment, there was concern next year's Illini team would struggle without a senior class. After all, don't all good teams have senior leaders? Weber says it depends on the situation.
"My first year here, '03-'04, we didn't have any seniors and we were pretty good. I don't think there's any formula. But there's no doubt this is a special case. More than being a senior, it gives us the leadership and competitiveness that I think he's gonna bring to the table.
"We saw when we played him he's a tough kid. He's not gonna back down to anybody. I think that's the biggest thing. Being a senior doesn't mean as much unless you have the experience, the confidence and have the intangibles to make it special when you are a senior."
Weber now has a large and talented group of newcomers to add to his team this summer.
"You're up to six now in that group. You've got some versatility in that class, and pretty much somebody at every position. We've very excited about all the guys coming in, excited about adding them this summer and getting them all here for summer school.
"Hopefully, all of them have the opportunity to go with us on the summer foreign trip. I don't think you could have better timing for that situation."
Illinois still has one open scholarship due to Jereme Richmond turning pro. Is Weber now finished with his 2011 recruiting?
"Not totally. We're kind of looking and listening to see what's out there. I think we were very fortunate in Sammy's case. Ironically, there were several fifth year guys that had called.
"I told the coaches, 'Start listening and talking, spread the word out and see what comes back.' So far, we haven't popped up with any power forwards. I went out last week a couple days and looked at some kids. We found Mike Davis in August, so that doesn't mean anything is done yet. But we don't want to rush into somebody and just take them."