Devin Langford Improving While Redshirting

At this point, the Fighting Illini basketball team is bringing in only one new player for next year, point guard Michael Orris. But there may be more help on the way in the person of Devin Langford. The Alabama product is redshirting due to multiple injuries this year, but his skill level and long-term potential are excellent.

His summer was halted by a serious, deep thigh bruise that prevented him from playing with the Illinois basketball team on its Italy trip. Shortly after the start of fall practices, he broke a finger and later had other ailments slowing his progress. Devin Langford has had a frustrating first year with the Illini.

"Nobody wants to sit out of the games, but I guess I kind of caught the bad luck. I'm just keeping a positive attitude and getting better in practice every day. It might just be set up for me to sit out and learn how to play."

The injuries may be a blessing in disguise. He says there are major differences between college ball and what he was accustomed to at Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama.

"In high school, the game was somewhat different than college basketball. There's more running, and it's more physical. In high school, it's just come down and shoot, run a couple plays and shoot. So I'm getting better and more in tune with being a college player. I'm getting faster and stronger."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber explains how valuable it is for Langford to participate in workouts now. It will make him better prepared for next year.

"He's got to learn now so next year things won't be brand new to him. He didn't practice for Italy, and he was hurt 2 or 3 times after that.

"He's made a lot of strides the last few weeks. He's made as much strides as anybody. The freshmen have had some little games, and he's been in the middle of that. We don't have as many people, so that's allowed him to get more reps.

"He has natural instincts, probably the best natural instincts anybody on our team has. He sees things passing-wise and does things ball handling-wise that other guys don't do."

Langford has shown rapid improvement in recent practices. Once shy and hesitant, he has become more assertive as his confidence builds. In a recent practice, he was seen taking his man off the dribble repeatedly, allowing him to break down the defense for his own shot or a crisp pass to an open teammate.

The main problem now is finding his best position. He played all five spots including point guard in high school. He may be too tall to defend small, speedy point guards at the college level, but Weber says there are other ways he can use his court awareness and passing skills.

"I think the biggest thing is what position he can play. He kind of does things like a point guard does, but I don't think he's quick enough to guard at the point.

"He's a little like a point forward. I even told him to watch what Joe (Bertrand) does, watch what Draymond Green does, watch what Robbie Hummel does. Guys who are forwards on defense, but on offense they're definitely players.

"I think we all feel pretty good about him. He doesn't know what we're doing because he hasn't been involved in practice. He hasn't had the reps of learning our plays and actions and motions and things. He's got a lot to learn, but he gets you excited."

Langford is amenable to the role if needed there.

"I'm just ready to play. Anywhere I can help the team. I'm just trying to get better."

Langford still tapes his finger. It allows him to trust the healing and play without concern.

"The doctor told me I could stop taping it if I wanted to. But I prefer to keep it safe. It's really just mental."

How has Langford adjusted to the colder Midwest climate after growing up in the deep South?

"I'm getting used to the weather a little bit. I knew it was going to be cold, so I knew what to expect."

The 6'-7", 215 pounder has also adjusted well to college academics. He is proud to say his large freshman class performed admirably first semester, posting a combined grade point average well above 3.0.

"I love my classes, and I feel like I'm getting along with all my professors. Everything is good. Our class had one of the highest GPAs they ever had. So I feel like that's good."

Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain predicts a bright future for his young pupil.

"Devin is a great athlete. He is not a great shooter, but he's a scorer. He can give you anything from 1 to 4. This kid is gonna be great.

"He can be like a point four because a lot of times it's a mismatch. His quickness, his explosiveness makes him a mismatch with other fours. He's big, he's strong. He's put on some weight, he's got a little taller. He has great vision, and he can score. He looks good in our three on three and four on four drills.

"He's growing up as a person, but he's also growing as a basketball player. We are grateful to have him around for another four years."

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