After a season that saw him returning to Israel for a second stint, with Maccabi Rishon Lezion, Keith Langford made another comeback, to the EuroLeague this time. Panathinaikos was close to signing him last summer, but Langford chose to play for the Shenzhen Leopards in China after his three-year contract with Uniks Kazan had expired.
The experienced slasher talked to TalkBasket.net about joining the ranks of the six-time EuroLeague champions, his bad experience at Khimki, the virtues of Nick Calathes, Juan Carlos Navarro and Drew Nicholas and the player he considers the most underrated point guard in Europe.
Q: How do you expect this EuroLeague season to be?
A: I don’t know … The team is not a finished product. It’s obvious that coach Pascual has a plan for us, but so far we didn’t get to spent much time together. The most important factor is that the team is healthy, everyone is in a good physical condition and what we really need is time to develop more chemistry. This is going to be my first EuroLeague season on such a big team. I played for Maccabi seven years ago, but I didn’t join them from the beginning of the season. For now, the best thing is to go step by step, learn and try to bring my experience piece to piece. As time goes on, I will be able to give an answer to this question.
Q: Did you discuss with coach Pascual about joining the team?
A: I didn’t. Last year, I talked to one of the assistant coaches and also to Dimitris Giannakopoulos at one point, but never to Xavi on the phone. This year, I didn’t speak with him either, but there were messages passed back and forth.
Q: Did you expect for this opportunity to arise again?
A: No, although I wanted it to happen. I know that this business rarely gives second chances. There’s always a new or a better player or a new up-and-coming guy that can replace you. I was lucky.
Q: Before coming here, did you talk to your brother Kevin, who has played for four Greek teams (Kolossos, Panionios, PAOK, Korivos)?
A: He gave me both good and bad information (laughs). When I told him about the chance to come to Panathinaikos, he replied “you got to go, what are you waiting on”?
Q: Reading a recent letter that you wrote to your younger self, I was impressed by the fact that -as you stated- Rimas Kurtinaitis as Khimki´s coach didn’t manage to get the best of you. In his prime, he was one of the best scorers and shooters in Europe.
A: I know, but I think that my personality at the time wasn’t quite ready for his. It wasn’t a good mixture of personalities. When he initially came to the team, he was very aggressive and wanted to change a lot of things, while I had been there for two years. I wasn’t very mature back then and that’s why it didn’t work.
Q: I also read that you talked to J.R.Holden before you decided to play on a high level in Europe. Is it true?
A: That was when I first got to Khimki in 2009. I met him and he started to mentor me. We talked some stuff about basketball, but mostly it was about life, how to approach the game as a man on and off the court and be a professional.
Q: Panathinaikos has a great point guard in Nick Calathes. You teamed up with Quino Colom at Uniks Kazan some years ago. Can you draw any comparisons between the two?
A: Two guys who see everything, any time on the floor. I do think Nick is a better overall player but as far as a pure passer, Quino is amazing. He’s the most underrated point guard in Europe and deserves to be in the EuroLeague, for sure.
Q: Were you as much surprised as Mike James said he was upon learning that he signed with a little-known Turkish team, Bahcesehir?
A: No, because from personal experience I know that when you’re worth a certain amount of money in a contract, sometimes the EuroLeague or the Eurocup may give you a back seat. You’ve got to do what’s best for you personally. I respect Quino’s decision: he wanted a certain amount of money, a EuroLeague team wouldn’t give him that and he decided to go play where the people really want him.
Q: In the Greek League, you’re going to face two ex-coaches, Luca Banchi and David Blatt. What do you think of them?
A: They are two coaches I played for in important moments of my career. With coach Banchi, we got to the top-8 in the EuroLeague, won the Italian League, while I got the Alfonso Ford trophy and was an All-EuroLeague selection. I learned a lot from him. Coach Blatt pretty much saved my career when I left Khimki and had a big fight with Kurtinaitis. Many people were scared to bring me to their team, I lost a lot of confidence and also a big contract. Then I went to Tel Aviv and coach Blatt managed to get me from zero back to the top. So, I have a lot of respect for both of them.
Q: It seems ironic that you now play for Panathinaikos, since two years ago in a television interview I remember you saying that you see yourself more as an Olympiacos rather than a PAO player.
A: I do remember that. From the outside looking in, it seemed that Panathinaikos was a very rigid and strict team, while Olympiacos seemed more like a fun and free-flowing team. But now that I am here, it’s not like that. The atmosphere is very open, easy and nice. I enjoy it. I know I said that in an interview, but now I’m wearing green and I’m happy about that.
Q: Juan Carlos Navarro retired recently. If I’m not mistaken, you scored your first NBA basket with the San Antonio Spurs against his team, the Memphis Grizzlies.
A: Actually, it was against him, since he was guarding me. I never got the chance to play against Juan Carlos in Europe in his prime, but I always had tons of respect for the guy. Anyone you ask, they will know the impact that Juan Carlos had on European basketball. He’s a legend.
Q: What is the secret of being a top scorer for so many years?
A: If I had to say just one thing, it’s not being afraid to miss shots. One day you can make and also miss a lot, but if you’re not afraid to miss, that’s the first step towards being a great scorer.
Q: In college, you played against Drew Nicolas, who later had a great career with Panathinaikos. Do you remember that?
A: Yes, I also played against Drew when I was in Europe. He wasn’t the main player on his team back then, but he was always good. When I saw him and understood the kind of career he was having in Europe, it motivated me to have a high-level career, make good money and have a good legacy overseas. He was one the first players that I saw who was on a really high level in Europe.
Q: What is the experience you are most looking forward to as a Panathinaikos player?
A: It’s been a while since I last had the expectation of winning every night. In the last few years, I played on teams that didn’t have this expectation. The goal was to keep the game close or just qualify for something. That´s what I most look forward to.