By Zach McCrite
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“I’ve long subscribed to the theory of ‘the lower the expectations, the happier you will be.’ ”
If we are fans of the same team – you and I – then, I am the fellow fan that you hate.
I am the fan that will temper all excitement and expectations when my team’s season starts or before they have a big game.
Why? Because I’ve long subscribed to the theory of “the lower the expectations, the happier you will be.”
But here I am, watching Indiana University men’s basketball (full disclosure: I’m a fan) … and I’m getting pumped.
I went to Assembly Hall for the season opener for the Hoosiers. Now, I’m well aware IU was going up against a completely undermanned, well-below-average opponent in Chicago State. It was also election night for, arguably, the most contentious midterm election cycle in our nation’s history. Needless to say, the Hall wasn’t sold out.
But, you could still feel an energy in the building not felt since Indiana hung a Big Ten championship banner after their last regular season game in 2016.
Stop me if you’ve heard this guy’s name before: Romeo Langford.
His 6-foot, 6-inch, 19-going-on-25 frame was the curiosity of almost every one of the 17,222 crimson-clad spectators. It was almost a nervous energy.
What will Romeo do? Will he dominate? Will he be a passive freshman? Will he still be the same hardly-stoppable force he was when he was hanging 30+ points per night down on Vincennes Street in New Albany the last four seasons?
For the first 7:42 of the game, he didn’t do much. He missed one field goal attempt and one free throw. He had one point.
Langford came off the court, got some instruction from Archie Miller, and gave the same stoic demeanor that New Albany head coach Jim Shannon knew well, even if the Hoosier diehards in attendance, and maybe even Miller himself, weren’t quite sure what the expression meant.
Because, let’s be honest, it was the same stoicism fans drooled over when he scored a NAHS record 63 points at Jennings County earlier this year, and the same stoicism we all experienced when Warren Central’s buzzer-beater in the IHSAA Final Four sent Romeo inside the locker room to tear off his now-retired No. 1 jersey for the last time as a Bulldog. Rarely had he worn his on-court emotions outwardly.
Surely, we weren’t going to see a passive Romeo Langford at the collegiate level, right? Nah. Expectations were a little higher this time around, remember?
And, it was at that moment, almost midway through his first half of basketball in an Indiana uniform that I remembered that Langford is a kid. A baby, even. It’s his first official collegiate basketball game. He’s eight months removed from playing in gyms as small as 2,100 (even if those gyms sold an amount of tickets that would make any fire marshal wince) and perhaps just eight months away from signing a contract that’ll have him playing basketball for $2,100 per minute.
Life comes at you fast. But maybe not any faster than it’s come at Romeo. It was at that moment I lowered my expectations for him and for the Hoosiers.
Not because I thought the season was going to be a failure. Just because we all forget that these are kids that were barely old enough to vote on the recent election night.
Perhaps something similar happened to Romeo during his brief respite from the game. Before you knew it, Langford had checked back in after a quick breather, and everyone who had seen him play on the red-glazed New Albany hardwood saw the same kid lighting up his new home floor – Branch McCracken Court at Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall, to be precise. Bulldog red traded in for Hoosier crimson.
A jumper from the baseline here. A slash-and-gash, coast-to-coast transition bucket there. Before you could blink, Romeo had 17 first half points.
And it was then that Southern Indiana fans who have hitched their wagon to Romeo after watching him in high school could release some of that nervousness.
Let’s be honest, for the diehard IU fans that live in the reach of this publication, there is a connection to the kid. He’s magnetic. He’s humble. It’s obvious his parents have done a superb job on him. And I’m sure his parents are also aware that most of Southern Indiana have adopted Romeo as their own, whether Sabrina and Tim like it or not.
So, like good parents, everyone held their breath a little as Romeo started his collegiate basketball career, however short it may be.
All for nothing. The jumpers. The slashing-and-gashing. The humility. The stoicism. It’s all still there. And so is his game even as his comfort in the college basketball world increases daily.
And, for the record, he’s changing me. With every subsequent game, win or lose, my usual expectation-limiting is starting to dissipate. My excitement beginning to percolate.
Before too long, I might be the fellow IU fan you don’t hate anymore.