Former Kansas guard Keith Langford, who recently signed a two-year contract extension with Russian professional team UNICS Kazan, envisions playing basketball for many years to come.
“I’ve gone back and forth and after all the scenarios I’ve replayed in my head that would involve retiring, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will play as long as my body can do what my mind asks,” said Langford, KU’s seventh-leading career scorer, who turns 33 on Sept. 15.
“When I feel that connection no longer exists, I’m done. The game has been so good to me, the worst thing I could do is be one of those guys holding on when I know it’s over. There are young guys waiting in the wings that could be starting their journey,” he added in an email interview with the Star from UNICS training camp overseas.
The stats say Langford, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, is far from finished.
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He averaged 19.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 16 Eurocup games a year ago. The 2016 VTB United League scoring champion and former MVP of the Adriatic League (2012) and EuroChallenge (2009) also had 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 40 VTB United League games.
“My body has held up great,” he said. “I can remember after having my third knee surgery at Kansas, being told that I could maybe play five years after I left. I also remember being told at the NBA combine that these just weren’t good knees. Looking back on it, it’s a good thing I’m a stubborn (person).
“There is a ton of work and time that I have put into being able to play so long at a high level but this has been so much more than I thought or expected. I can’t take all the credit because I have been fortunate enough to get with trainers and medical staff that have taught me different ways and shown me things to get the most efficiently from my body. It’s an expensive investment at times, but worth it.”
He certainly can afford the best personal trainers and medical personnel.
Langford, who has played overseas the last nine seasons, has probably made more money outside the United States than any other former KU basketball player.
“That’s a fact,” Langford said.
Various Internet reports have him earning between $1 million and $2 million a year — all of his previous contracts have also been rumored to be in the $1 million to $3 million range annually.
“They continued to make me one of the highest-paid players in the continent,” he stated of his current deal with UNICS.
Langford doesn’t mind addressing the subject of money because it might help convince some other college players not selected in the NBA Draft to abandon dreams of playing in the NBA for hefty paychecks overseas.
“First thing a guy going to Europe should understand is that it’s not a failure. I struggled with this mightily initially leaving school — undrafted and in debt with a loan from an agent,” Langford said.
“Not only that, but listening to naysayers and negative comments regarding the game overseas when they have no knowledgeable experience to speak in that regard. You can build your career, bank account and see the world. It’s not a failure,” added Langford, who a few seasons ago declined an offer reportedly worth about $850,000 a year with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
“Tax deductions, paid living expenses (unless you want to upgrade), seeing the world, and one of the things I covet most, being that I am still a focal point of basketball. Meaning, I play every night. I am an important part of my team’s success and failure. I get to spend my years playing,” Langford said, stating the “pros” of heading outside the country.
“Not that I don’t feel I could get playing time in the NBA, but I feel the window for what my role is here in Europe closed in the NBA a long time ago.”
The cons of playing overseas, as stated by Langford, whose brother, Kevin, competes for a team in Italy: “Business isn’t always done in the manner of sports in the States, meaning there can be late payments and bush-league tactics business-wise depending on the team you are dealing with. Secondly, not all facilities are what they are in the U.S. Next, the NBA offers the opportunity to make tens of millions of dollars annually. Whereas in Europe, you can make millions, but you are more likely to finish your career with $10 or $12 million as opposed to making it per year. The NBA is simply the better league. Best in the world. Though we may be competing at a high level, it’s not the best there is.”
Langford — he’s been joined in Russia for the upcoming season by his wife, Brittany, and 3-year-old son, Kaycen Keith Langford — is well-prepared for life after hoops. He and Brittany own the Wingstop restaurant at 2233 Louisiana St. in Lawrence.
“I wouldn’t call it gravy just yet because the brand isn’t as popular in Kansas as it is in Texas and the Southwest,” said Langford, who’s from Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s one of those things that once it catches on, it becomes huge. I love to eat there and it was that good that I wanted in on the business.
“I would like to have future businesses. It’s cool to have this in Lawrence because I will always come back here at times and it serves as a kind of keepsake for me — somewhere to always come before and after games with my family (including brother Justin Wesley, a former KU walk-on who works for a marketing company in Minnesota) and another way to keep a connection in Lawrence.”
Keith Langford spent some time in Lawrence during the summer and as such, watched the 2016-17 Jayhawks work out.
“I was super excited. I don’t know if I could have gotten any PT on this team. Obviously that’s a lie, but I think they’re that good,” Langford cracked. “They are the only ones who can beat them. Another Big 12 title is definitely in the cards.”
As far as his own former KU teammates and coaches …
“My dealings with coach (Bill Self) are mostly in the summer when we are face to face. I try not to invade because I know how tedious of a schedule people are on in this business,” said Langford, who played two years for Roy Williams (reaching Final Fours in 2002 and 2003) and two for Self before graduating in 2005.
“Aaron (Miles, former teammate of Langford now an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast) is always the best at making sure everyone keeps in touch and getting guys together.”
There’s still a chance Langford some day will see his No. 5 hang in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. This four-year Jayhawks player figures to remain KU’s No. 7 career scorer for some time with so many players leaving college early for the NBA.
“Yes man. Yes, yes, yes,” Langford replied in his email when asked if his number should be retired. “I do think so. It should be done. KU has done it before where they change the criteria to allow certain guys in. And that was because they deserve it.
“From being the seventh all-time leading scorer (23rd in steals) to being on the all-Final Four team in 2003. Those are not accomplishments that come every career. Whether it happens or not, I’ll still have my love for the school because before I was offered a scholarship, I was just a kid from Fort Worth that was the starting power forward his junior year for his high school team. The decision to come to KU changed my life forever.”