Casey Harrison, Current Sports beat reporter, tells the story of MSU men's basketball sophomore guard Joshua Langford. Harrison tells us how Langford looks at the bigger picture, beyond basketball.
EAST LANSING, Mich. - This wasn’t supposed to happen. Michigan State starting shooting guard sees the applause, the chance to play at the Breslin Center, the hard work every day at practice as something more than the life of an elite athlete in college.
Long before Joshua Langford committed to Michigan State, there was a real chance the sophomore from Huntsville, Alabama never again play basketball at all.
He was a seventh grader, who felt ill one day after a summer football practice in 2009. Langford’s family thought he’d come down with a cold, or suffered from seasonal allergies.
The days that followed, however, revealed something more serious. A fever developed, at one point reaching 104. Langford felt so fatigued, felled by intense migraines, he couldn’t leave his bed. He was hallucinating, thinking that God was talking to him.
His mother, Yolanda Langford, had enough and took him to the hospital.
Doctors tried to guess what was wrong with Langford, but were unable to come to diagnosis.
Family members urged doctors to test him for bacterial meningitis, a serious bacterial infection of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Some family members recognized the same symptoms as Langford’s uncle, Labyron Humphrey, had before he died of bacterial meningitis on Jan. 15, 1994.
Langford and his uncle are connected, despite never meeting, as the MSU star was born three years later, to the day, and was given late uncle’s first name as his middle name.
“Luckily my family was blessed enough to know the symptoms when he was sick,” Langford said. “They told the doctors I should be tested for bacterial meningitis. And at first, they weren’t going to test me. They were skeptical about it.”
Langford’s father, Tellus, was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, on a six-month tour for the U.S. Department of Defense without knowing his son was seriously ill. Langford, went to the hospital after Tellus left. Five days into his deployment, Tellus learned of his son’s condition.
All Tellus could think about was his cousin Labyron.
A needle was placed into Langford’s back and a sample of spinal fluid was taken – and soon, the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis was confirmed.
“Bacterial meningitis is one of the most concerning from a clinical pathway,” said MSU Assistant Professor Rany Aburashed, a board-certified neurologist at Memorial Health Center in Owosso, Michigan. “We need to find this, when we see bacterial meningitis, it’s a big deal. It’s a medical emergency.”
Langford immediately began antibiotic treatment. Doctors let him know the possible complications from his sickness: deafness, blindness, epilepsy, memory loss, even limb loss.
Doctors gave Langford almost no chance of playing competitive sports at a high level ever again.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4,100 cases were diagnosed annually from 2003-07. Aburashed said the mortality rate for bacterial meningitis could be as high as 15 percent in the U.S.
Langford was released from the hospital a week after starting treatment. Three weeks after being diagnosed, he was back at Madison Academy.
Miraculously, he soon resumed everyday life. By the time Tellus returned home, his son hit a growth spurt. Months after not knowing if he’d live a normal life again, Langford made his school’s basketball team.
His basketball career was off and running.
He earned Alabama Class 3A Player of the Year five times, once as an eighth grader. As a senior, Langford became the eighth-highest scorer in Alabama high school history with 3,089 points, and was named a McDonald’s All-American - where he met fellow MSU commit Miles Bridges.
"He was a normal teenager, but he definitely had a different view on life," Tellus, told MLive last November. "He didn't take anything for granted. He knew what he wanted to do and he just so much more mentally tougher. At the same time, it made him more of a compassionate person and aware of things around him."
Langford viewed his talent on the court as a second chance from God.
“It’s a blessing from God to be able to live like that because I didn’t really know if I was going to live or die each day, each second, each moment,” Langford said. “To be able to have that be my testimony and be able to be in front of you now telling you about it is only a blessing from God. Only God can do that. I’m just thankful that he spared my life.”
When Langford and Bridges arrived at MSU, they immediately befriended teammate Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
“I knew before Josh came in that he was a really spiritual dude,” said Nairn. “I always tell him he changed me because he helped me become even more mature and spiritual knowing he was coming in.
“I tell Josh all the time he’s a special kid. Being on his deathbed at 12 years old and hearing God’s voice that he wasn’t going to die when the doctors counted him out and everybody thought he wasn’t going to make it. You have to be special to be able to hear God’s voice.”
Nairn said he remembers a night in which he, Langford and Bridges stayed up until 2 a.m. talking about their spirituality. But conversations about their faith seem to be a daily occurrence nowadays.
“Every day you get a chance to see life as a blessing, man,” Nairn said. “We talk about this, the fact that we just look at our hands sometimes and be able to move them wider than anybody, it seems kind of silly to think about but then again there’s somebody who can’t do it.”
This season, Langford is averaging 12.9 points per game through 10 games, and is on pace to nearly double his scoring total from last season.
Izzo said he’s seen the biggest improvement with how Langford drives the lane, and even called Langford’s mid-range jumper perhaps the best he’s coached.
From a medical standpoint, Langford’s rise is a rare story.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Aburashed said. “It’s very impressive that he’s doing what he’s doing, depending how severe his meningitis was but it’s remarkable to any degree.”