Keith Langford will turn 38 next September. In a summer period when several EuroLeague veterans, among them Vassilis Spanoulis and Omri Casspi, decided to retire, one of the continent's most productive scorers keeps going. 

The EuroLeague trophy may be still missing from his collection of silverware, but the experienced slasher has always been capable of delivering the goods whenever required. An injury prevented him from being able to help his former team for the past two years, AEK Athens, in the Greek League playoffs, which provided some consolation to the 2018 Basketball Champions League winners after an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign in all competitions.

Three years in the Greek capital gave Keith Langford the chance to lift a total of three domestic titles with Panathinaikos and AEK and play the 2020 BCL final with the "Queen", only to lose to back-to-back winners San Pablo Burgos at the OAKA Arena. However, the journey for the former player of the San Antonio Spurs, Angelico Biella, Virtus Bologna, Olimpia Milan, Khimki, UNICS Kazan, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon Lezion is about to continue. Although his next destination is yet unknown, the Texas-born shooting guard has been evaluating offers from potential suitors.

The two-time top EuroLeague scorer (in 2014 and 2017) connected with Basketnews.com via Zoom in order to discuss his next moves and career choices, Americans playing in Europe, EuroLeague turning into a closed-off competition, Team USA's chances in the upcoming Olympics, and much more. Above all, Keith Langford opened up on the impact that the game of basketball has had on his life, as he grew to love it. "I'm afraid to look at where my life would be without basketball", the 2020 BCL MVP conceded in a rare moment of introspection.

Hello, Keith. How are you holding up? What have been doing lately?

Nothing - and that's the great part about the off-season. I literally haven't done anything; I haven't touched the basketball, I've caught up on some family time, I've visited my grandmother in New York and my mother in Houston. I'm also recovering from the injury that I had at the end of the season. So, I'm taking my time to heel and come back.

When will you be ready to play?

I don't know ... I think that if I needed to play, it could be anytime soon. But I probably won't do anything in the gym until, probably, the 1st of August, just to be safe and sure.

Have you thought about where you will be playing next season? Has anyone reached out to you, including from AEK Athens?

No one from AEK has reached out to me. I tell my agent to bring me the best three offers he has and then I'll decide from there. Right now, I'm sitting at two and I'm waiting for the third one to come in. It's not the standard procedure, but right before I came to Panathinaikos, that was the way I was doing things. When I left Panathinaikos, I knew I wanted to stay in Athens. I knew where things were heading with AEK - and then, after COVID hit and the season was shortened, I thought it was easy to come back to AEK. I skipped a couple of years, but all the way up till Panathinaikos, that was typically the way I did things.

It's a summer period one could describe as a milestone. Over a period of a few weeks, several European greats announced their retirement from basketball - and most of them were Greek. Vassilis Spanoulis, Nikos Zisis, Giannis Bouroussis, Stratos Perperoglou, but also Felipe Reyes and Fernando San Emeterio, among others. Do you feel it's the end of an era?

It is, but one thing you learn about sports is that there's always somebody else. It's the end of an era, but it's the beginning of another one too. There are going to be more European and American stars. That's the beauty of the game: it has its cycles. As soon as these guys cycle out, the new guys will come in. You don't have the time to mourn because there's more excitement coming in. Basketball is still in very good hands.

Speaking of Perperoglou, he was a forward who took a lot of mid-range shots. Do you think that this particular type of shot can be in fashion again?

Of course. If you look at the highest level of basketball, which is the NBA Finals, the best and most skillful players are using this shot. The mid-range shot is a weapon, but it's when you take the shot and how you use it that's important. I do understand that basketball is moving in another direction, where spacing and long-distance shooting are very strategic and popular, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of basketball, if you can utilize that weapon, it's as important as any other shot that's in the game.

You have repeatedly said that AEK Athens gave you the chance to be yourself and play the way you were used to. Does it all come down to that? Did you ever feel the need on any of your teams to step back a bit, get out of whatever comfort zone you might have created for yourself, and just be one piece of the puzzle instead of the undisputable leading man?

I went to Panathinaikos towards the end of my career to be a big piece of the puzzle. The experience that I had was very inconsistent because I felt I was better than the way I was being utilized. I understood that in my prime years - at 27 or 28 - I wouldn't have been happy playing that way.

I know winning is important and everyone wants to win, but I wasn't flying across the Atlantic Ocean year after year just to come over here and play 10 minutes or average like 6 or 8 points. To me, that wasn't the kind of work I was putting in and the kind of time I was spending away from my family. It was worth more than spot minutes and minimal statistics. For me, winning or losing is obviously important, but I wanted to be the best basketball player I could be and the one thing I do well is attack, score and play creatively. When that is marginalized in a smaller role, it was difficult for me to handle.

So, I tried it, and then getting back to AEK was a breath of fresh air to me because prior to Panathinaikos I was injured in China. So, for two years leading up to the time I was with AEK, I wanted to play and be myself again. That's why I was very appreciative of AEK and coach Ilias (Papatheodorou) for the opportunity I had.

Although it could have been a conscious decision, did you feel that to an extent you might have sacrificed some more titles on the altar of your own basketball happiness - of feeling more comfortable by doing what you know best?

I've probably sacrificed two more titles for one or two million dollars. That was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Once I learned about the EuroLeague and how it's structured, it didn't excite me to go to the 6-7 powerhouse teams and win the Final Four with them. Everybody does that. It's the same 6-8 teams that win it every year.

So, I felt like I can separate myself as best if I can go to a team that had never been there before. I wanted to do something similar to Bo McCalebb and Jan Vesely getting Partizan to a Final Four or Lokomotiv with Malcolm Delaney, Anthony Randolph, and Chris Singleton. To me, that's more exceptional to CSKA, Madrid, or Barcelona going to the Final Four 8 years in a row. The challenge excited me way much more and that's why I was trying to do it at Khimki, Kazan, or Milan. In all fairness, I also got paid more money to go to the places I went to compared to what the biggest teams were offering.

Credit SIPA-Scanpix


How hard it is for an American player to accept, acknowledge and adapt to the reality that he won't be able to make it in the NBA - or if he does, his playing time and the role will be limited - and pursue a more lucrative or successful path by going overseas? How did you come to terms with it?

To answer the last part of your question, by the time I made it to Russia I was looking to have a mentor. Even though I had made it to the EuroLeague before meeting JR Holden, he changed my mentality and approach to what I was doing, the things I could accomplish, and how to look at my career. I was very fortunate to have met him because he changed my mentality.

As for the first part, it's difficult for Americans because a lot of guys don't understand what you're capable of having in Europe. A lot of guys don't understand how good basketball or the lifestyle can be, depending on the city that you're in. In America, we tend to be a bit ignorant of what else is out there. Although the NBA is the best league in the world, we look at not playing in the NBA as a failure. The mentality is all wrong from the beginning because we automatically fail, which means that we have to go overseas, and then we're focused on trying to come back.

My advice to guys is always: "Be two feet in, wherever you are. If you're in the States, try to make it and stay here for 2-3 years. If you don't make it, come to Europe and be all the way in and create something beautiful, your career and your own mark." The sooner guys from the States stop looking at it as a failure, the sooner they'll be in a much better position.

Do you think that if you were like ten years younger, you could be playing in the NBA?

Yes, I think I could have played in the era when I was young. But I had played myself to a position where my role and my salary had become so important to me - and I was so focused on it- that the NBA would have had to make me an offer, that they weren't willing to make, for me to come back. When I felt I was good enough to play in the NBA, my focus, my passion, and my love were no longer there. I was chasing something else at that time. Do I think that talent-wise I was capable of playing in the NBA? Absolutely. The timing was off. That's all.

Last April, you tipped your hat off to Lavrio's US players. In general, have you noticed any differences - in terms of mentality and mindset- between the younger and older generations of Americans in Europe?

That's why I commended the guys from Lavrio. They were the first set of Americans in Europe that I saw and had the same mentality as some of the guys of my era. I give credit to the staff of Lavrio, they did a good job of putting those guys together on the team. But it was the first time that I've seen that.

As far as the mentality goes, I saw it also in Daryl Macon, one of my teammates from last season. He had an unbelievable skill set and talent. He was really willing to listen and take in a lot of information. Now, he's about to take a big step in his career.

He's a budding superstar in Europe. He's made a big decision to let go of some of the NBA glitz and glams to really focus on basketball and create his own path. He has the ability and the talent to do that. Obviously, the people at Panathinaikos saw that he played amazing at the playoffs. I really hope that he takes the next step and that he's able to use his talent and ability the same way he did in order to show that he deserved an opportunity to play in the EuroLeague.

It also looks like AEK are bringing in Quino Colom. I'm sure that one will bring a smile to your face.

Absolutely. I've already spoken to Quino, we spoke earlier today. He's kind of in the same position as I was. He made a lot of good money, but basketball the last two years wasn't going really well for him. Now, he has an opportunity to go somewhere, where the situation is not about money, but about showing everybody that he can still play and that he's still a high-level talent. If they do finalize the deal and go through, which is a high possibility, then AEK club and fans are very fortunate to get a player of his ability. I have a lot of respect for Nick Calathes and I think he's great, but Quino is a special point guard, my favorite to play with during my career.

Credit BasketNews.lt/V.Mikaitis


Regarding your time in Panathinaikos, could things have turned out better for you if you had spoken directly with Xavi Pascual? In October 2018, we had a discussion where you told me that you had talked to one of his assistants and also to Dimitris Giannakopoulos, but never to Xavi on the phone, although "there were messages passed back and forth".

No, because in Europe it's about the club, then about the coach and last about the player. I don't think European coaches typically call players to tell them what they're doing or trying to do. Maybe I could have been a much more willing "soldier", but it was very hard for me to not know whether I was going to play 10 or 30 minutes or not at all. So, I could have been more understanding of that. But as far as Xavi, I have no complaints because afterward we met and he told me he should have done things a bit different. For me, that meant a lot and I respect it because a lot of European coaches would do that.

Having played for Khimki for two years (2009-11), were you surprised to learn the news of them being on the verge of bankruptcy?

Honestly? No (laughs)! I wasn't surprised and I think that people who played there would say the same thing. But Khimki will be back. It's Russia, the money comes and goes fast. They will build a team and down the line, in a couple of years, no one will be talking about them not playing this year.

How were things when you were playing there?

It was fine, a little bit up and down. Sometimes you'd go three months without getting paid and sometimes they would pay you three months all in one time. You were guaranteed to get paid and you knew the money was there. From a standpoint of being late on payments, it did resemble Greece a lot, although the money they were paying in Russia was exponentially more.

Credit Fotodiena.lt/R.Dačkus


What do you think of the EuroLeague turning more and more into a closed league? Is it a step in the right direction?

I believe that the best direction for the EuroLeague to go is for those teams to play each other more than once, home and away. I won't say that they shouldn't be in the domestic leagues, but the best thing for basketball is to add a few more high-level teams into the EuroLeague and get the best basketball multiple times a week. That's more sponsorships, more TV, and more interest. It would give the game singularity. Right now, there are too many moving parts in Europe with all these different leagues, cups, and scheduling conflicts. When that happens, a lot of people can get behind and understand some consistency. It would be huge for European basketball.

A few weeks ago, Rick Pitino told Basketnews.com that he feels that the NBA will take over European basketball like they took over NBA Africa. He added that the fans of Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, or Barcelona would love to have the NBA connection. Do you think that could be a viable solution to the economic problems of European pro basketball at the highest level?

It could be a solution, but at the same time, I don't think that the powerhouses would want to give up their power. It's good in theory, but Europe has some more resistance logistically and financially than Africa does to not let the NBA come in and take over the game. So, I really don't see the NBA being able to come in and take over places like Real Madrid, Barcelona, or even the Russian sides. It doesn't seem feasible.

Over the last days, there's been much debate on FIBA rules, on the occasion of Team USA's losses to Nigeria and Australia ahead of the Olympics. James White said they are designed for less athletic teams to be able to catch up to NBA talent, while Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers suggested that the NBA should adopt some of those rules. What's your take on that and what do you think of Team USA's chances in the Olympics?

Team USA just got together a couple of weeks ago - and they're still the best players in the world. Some of them haven't participated in international competitions in years. So, once they are able to make their adjustment and figure out the style, the officiating, the different angles of spacing, and get in a rhythm, I feel that they're going to win the gold medal. Not easily, but it won't be close. Obviously, the game in Europe has advanced and I don't want to take anything away from European players and the way the game has advanced all over the world.

You represented the United States national team at the 2015 Pan American Games. Do you think that a US squad based on - or including also - Americans playing in Europe would be a viable solution in order for them not to get lost in translation between different rules?

It would be competitive, but ultimately I think that there aren't any American players as good as the top European players, like Spain with Pau Gasol or Slovenia with Doncic. I don't think that America would be in an advantageous spot by using the high-level Americans in Europe because they're not as good as the best that Europe has to offer, who play in the NBA.

Credit Sputnik – Scanpix


Your Twitter profile reads: "Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real". Which is the biggest basketball dream of yours that eventually did or didn't come true? How do you feel about it?

It does sound superficial, but I grew up extremely poor and in very difficult conditions. So, my initial dream was to be able to make money and make a living by playing this game. I wasn't one of those kids that from age 5 were saying "Oh, I want to play in the NBA!", "Michael Jordan is my favorite player" and all those things.

I wanted to play American football and didn't have an NBA dream, but my love for basketball developed as I got older and better. I saw that this was a way out for me. Once I got into High School, I started to get a bit taller and become a better player. Once I got to college, my love for basketball evolved. My dream wasn't necessarily to be in the NBA, but to be successful, make money and take care of myself and my family. I chose not to accept my reality.

Have you thought about life after basketball?

I have. It's difficult because I've been doing this for so long, ever since I was 15 years old. Now being 37, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The thing that I want the most at the end of my career is acceptance; accepting the career I've had and the way I want to live the game: without injuries, playing at a good level, and knowing that I've given everything mentally and physically. I'm going to leave the game when there's nothing else in my body and in my mind to give to basketball.

You recently graduated from Kansas. If I'm not mistaken, journalism was your major in college. If you were a journalist and could ask yourself one question, which would it be?

I could come up with a better answer if I had more time, but I would ask myself: "You went undrafted, you only played a few games in the NBA, came to Europe. How would you be impacting others if you were never able to learn and be impacted by basketball the way that you have been? What would you be doing with your life?".

I would say that there's no way that I could have impacted the people around me and have the life that I've had without this game. Because I can only imagine talking to the guy that never was able to leave this neighborhood and go to college, or live in Russia, Israel, Greece, and Italy, learn all these different cultures and understand the world in a different way. I really think that this game has been a savior for me and without it, I can't say where my life would be. I'm afraid to look at where my life would be without basketball.

It's always been implied that you should be something outside of basketball, that basketball shouldn't be your identity. I think it's OK if basketball is your identity, as long as you use it to impact yourself and the people around you in a positive way. Without basketball, I wouldn't have been able to impact the people that I've come in contact with, in a positive way. I am extremely fortunate, blessed for all those things and I wouldn't have it any other way in my journey.


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Sigis
Excellent content! Thanks a lot!
2021-07-22
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Anonymous
Respect for great effort writting all answers
2021-07-21
+1
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Barkley
Great interview! Thanks for nice content!
2021-07-21
+3
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Anonymous
Please replace podcasters microphone. Quality is very bad.
2021-07-21
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