NS on Romeo Langford, Part I: Managing the circus

New Albany High School basketball star Romeo Langford adjusts his arm band during a game Friday at Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
A sign on a door at Floyd Central High School Friday alerts the public that there were no tickets remaining for the Highlanders' boy's basketball game with New Albany. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
New Albany star Romeo Langford goes through pregame introductions prior to the Bulldogs' game at Floyd Central Friday in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
The New Albany student section was filled for Friday's boy's basketball game with rival Floyd Central in Floyds Knobs. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
The Floyd Central High School students storm the court following the Highalnders' upset win over No. 1-ranked New Albany Friday in Floyds Knobs. Highlander coach Todd Sturgeon conducts an interview with a Louisville TV station in the foreground. (BY Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Indiana University men's basketball coach Archie Miller watches the Floyd Central vs. New Albany basketball game Friday in Floyds Knobs. The Hoosiers are recruiting Bulldog star Romeo Langford. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

This is the first in a four-part series of stories touching on New Albany High School basketball star Romeo Langford.

Today’s segment: Managing the circus

Tuesday: Mr. Basketball favorites matched-up in Indy showcase event

FLOYDS KNOBS – The parking lot at Floyd Central High School Friday was nearly full, but after navigating to the far reaches of concrete, there were a handful of open spaces remaining against the perimeter.

That seemed odd given that it was only 6:15 p.m. and the varsity boy’s basketball game between No. 1-ranked New Albany and No. 14 Floyd Central, bitter rivals which are actually part of the same school corporation, didn’t expect to tip-off at least for another 75 minutes or so.

But I had been warned.

“I’ll leave you a ticket,” Highlander coach Todd Sturgeon had told me in advance, “but you better get here early. If you show up five minutes before the (varsity) game, you may be out of luck.”

Such is life when you are hosting Romeo Langford.

Langford has been on the radar of every high school basketball fan in this state for years. The 6-foot-5 New Albany star didn’t become a phenom just recently, he has been tremendous from the get-go, and the interest that he attracts has been immense from the beginning.

As I approached the entrance to the school, Sturgeon’s advice proved correct: this game was already sold out and it said so in big, bold letters on signs posted on every door.

Tickets were being scalped throughout the area for upwards of $100 and as it turned out, if you weren’t there for the junior varsity game, then you weren’t there.

The younger squads got the experience of playing in front of a packed gymnasium from tip to buzzer, which made the Floyd Central vs. New Albany JV game more than likely one of the highest-attended games in the entire state that night.

“It was really wild,” longtime New Albany coach Jim Shannon said following the varsity game.

Like Sturgeon, Shannon wasn’t surprised, however.

Two years ago, the ticket line at 6 p.m. (which is when the junior varsity game starts) stretched out the doors of Floyd Central and around the corner of the school.

Last March, the Bulldogs got by the Highlanders in the IHSAA Class 4A Sectional championship in front of 8,000 fans in Seymour, which is an hour from either school.

Friday’s game was “wild,” but the overtime Floyd Central victory was just one part of the crazed atmosphere.

Not only do the tickets go fast when Langford is in the house, but there is an element of circus surrounding the entire night. And first-year Indiana University men’s basketball coach Archie Miller striding into the gym didn’t help matters.

Fans of all ages swarmed to the Hoosier coach as if he was manna from Heaven (and maybe he is in a basketball sense). Miller posed for countless photos and signed autographs until his hand hurt, all of which took place under the watchful presence of a pair of Floyd County Sherriff deputies, who played a tight man-to-man defense on Miller all evening.

RELATED STORY:Floyd Central finds its ‘zone’ and shuts down Romeo Langford, top-ranked New Albany

Following the game, Miller (and his police escort) made his way back to the New Albany locker room for a word with Shannon and Langford, which left many fans (of all ages) being painfully patient in the hallway.

They weren’t waiting for Miller at that point, they wanted the real star.

“Yeah,” Shannon said, “usually (Langford) does have to stop and sign autographs.”

If there is a coach that is prepared to handle this type of situation, it is probably Shannon.

He’s been a coach for nearly four decades and he cut his teeth as an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Norm Held at Anderson High.

After coaching in The Wigwam during the Indians’ heyday, you can forgive Shannon if he isn’t overwhelmed by his current task.

“Romeo and his family make it pretty easy,” Shannon said of the daily chaos that surrounds his program. “They are very, very grounded people, so I don’t have to worry about him.”

Like Miller on Friday, Bulldog practices have been attended by nearly every top college program in the country, and the media requests for Langford and Shannon rarely slow. All of that doesn’t even included game nights like Friday, in which Shannon has to keep a group of teenagers focused through the madness.

“The kids have accepted that (the circus) is all part of it,” Shannon said. “It’s part of why we get to do what we do. Playing on ESPN, being ranked No. 1 in the state, winning the state championship, we wouldn’t be doing all of those things if Romeo didn’t play here.”

“I think the kids respect that and understand that.”

Not only does Langford’s family make the situation manageable, but Shannon said Romeo plays a huge part in that, as well.

It would be understandable for Langford to lose touch with some sense of reality, but he hasn’t, which is what has allowed the Bulldog train to continue to run successfully and smoothly, Friday’s loss notwithstanding.

“The kids all like him,” Shannon said. “That really helps. But this IS a whole other deal.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.