First family of Fort Worth basketball still shining after careers at TCU, Kansas

By Peter Dawson pdawson@star-telegram.com

Keith and Kevin Langford, along with Justin Wesley, might be the best basketball family to ever come out of Fort Worth.

The three brother’s prolific journeys, equal parts similar and distinct, were built upon a foundation of hard work and talent.

Keith, the oldest, wasn’t the biggest kid growing up and he was always playing football. But one day in middle school, he told his mother, Charlene Taylor, that he was going out for the basketball team. Taylor, who played basketball at UT Arlington (as did her ex-husband, Keith and Kevin’s father), provided a typically whip-smart response to her eldest son as he got ready to bolt out the door: “You better get to work.”

After some peer pressure and a few injuries on the gridiron, he did just that. His younger brothers followed suit.

In the two-plus decades since, the trio collectively became stars at North Crowley High School, earned Division I scholarships to Kansas, California-Berkeley, TCU and Lamar University, and continued their careers overseas.

Now, for the first time, the trio agreed to discuss their illustrious journeys in the sport, their relationships with one another and their plans for the future.

HIGH SCHOOL YEARS

Back in 1998, Crowley High School had one of the best programs in the area, which meant the eldest Langford had to figure out a way to get more playing time. Fortunately, Crowley ISD announced North Crowley High School would open its doors that fall and students would be allowed the option to transfer over.

Tommy Brakel, Crowley’s junior varsity coach, was able to convince the younger players, Keith included, that they could build a program of their own.

By the end of his high school career, he was a three-time first-team all district selection and first-team all-state selection.

Almost 20 years later, Keith’s scoring, rebounding and steal totals in his three seasons on varsity rank third, fourth and seventh, respectively. Most importantly, he put a brand-new program on the map and set the table for the success of future teams and over a dozen Division I players.

The summer before his junior season, a close friend convinced Keith to join him at a tryout for Team Texas, one of the best AAU programs in the state.

Ole Miss recruited him heavily early on, and he gave them a verbal commitment. But that changed when he made Team Texas and some of the nation’s top coaches started calling into Brakel’s office.

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, who was the head coach of Kansas at that time, had just lost future NBA forward Josh Childress to Stanford in a tough recruiting battle, and was looking for a slashing scorer. Williams said that even though Langford was “just a little bit out under the Top 25” as a recruit, the forward’s performance at the Nike Peach Jam in Georgia convinced the coach he’d found an eventual replacement for his talented backcourt.

Kevin, who is two years younger and was three grades behind, played a handful of games on varsity as a freshman. He didn’t mind the precedent set by his older brother.

“I never felt like I had to live up to Keith,” Kevin Langford said. “I never felt that pressure that I wasn’t good enough…I felt like his (success) kind of kept me grounded.”

It took the middle member of the family some time to find his game and grow into his body in high school. But when he did, the results were impressive. In his final two seasons at North Crowley, Kevin averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He also garnered first-team all-state honors as a senior. In three seasons on varsity, Kevin’s teams also won three district titles and finished with a perfect 56-0 record.

Wesley, who shares a mother with his two older siblings, had a much shorter stint at North Crowley. Despite not having the same father, both older boys viewed Wesley as their true sibling. He felt that same way, particularly after his father passed away when he was 4 years old.

“...my two brothers were my father figure, my idols, my everything,” he told the Kansas City Star several years ago. “I always wanted to be like them and make them proud in whatever I did.”

Wesley lived in Fort Worth through his final year in junior high, but before starting high school, he and their mom moved to Houston. But after their house suffered damage in Hurricane Ike, the 6-foot-9 forward asked his mother if he could move back to Fort Worth to live with her sister and be a part of the tradition his older brothers had started.

In his one season with the team, Wesley averaged 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, in addition to being named District 4-5A Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-district in 2009. Brakel believes Wesley might have enjoyed even more prep success if he’d come all the way up in his program, but the coach also called him the most athletic player he’s had at North Crowley.

Not one of the three ever captured a state championship. But they set the foundation for a program that won a state title in 2008 and has helped launch the college careers of over a dozen players.

“Having them back-to-back-to-back and spaced out the way they were was really invaluable to our program early,” Brakel said. “And if you believe success breeds success then it probably still has an impact on North Crowley today.”

COLLEGE YEARS

Despite their talent and work ethic, all three brothers faced immense challenges during their freshmen collegiate campaigns.

As a lesser-rated recruit going from Fort Worth to one of the blue-blood programs, Keith felt he had something to prove.

“I think going in (to Kansas), my confidence was higher than the player I was at the time,” he said. “The Fort Worth swagger is cocky, probably too cocky because the basketball isn’t that great there. But it can carry you a long way.”

During that first summer, he spent practice after practice “getting my ass beat” by talented veteran guards like Jeff Boschee (who briefly held the Big 12 record for most career three-pointers) and Kirk Hinrich (a future NBA lottery pick).

“He did have to go to a different gear and push harder than he ever pushed, but that was OK with him,” Williams said. “I think his teammates accepted him, his own class for sure, but the older guys who had already done some things, because of that competitiveness and focus he had. He didn’t act like he was a freshman.”

In his next two seasons, Keith helped lead the Jayhawks to two consecutive trips to the Final Four and a national championship game appearance, where he was named to the 2003 All-NCAA Tournament team. By the end of his four-year career, he’d been named a two-time All-Big 12 second-team selection and scored the eighth-most points in program history through the 2016-2017 season.

Due to the age difference, Keith wasn’t able to be physically present as his two younger siblings started coming into their own on and off the court. What he could provide was guidance through their recruiting process.

Kevin really wanted to go far away from home. So, he verbally committed to UCLA before ultimately signing with UC-Berkeley. Almost immediately, he deduced he might not be a good fit for head coach Ben Braun and decided to transfer, thus costing himself a year of eligibility.

TCU had always shown interest in him and, after a campus visit and a few conversations with then-head coach Neil Dougherty (who passed away in 2011), he decided to go to a place where he felt wanted.

He made the right choice. Kevin averaged more than 13 points per game in his three seasons as a Horned Frog, earning Third-Team All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2008 and Second-Team All-MWC honors in 2009.

Kevin Langford

After a frustrating freshman season at Lamar University in Beaumont, Wesley also wanted to transfer. He wanted to play at Kansas where Bill Self had taken over and recently won a national title.

When Keith told his younger brother that the program might not have a scholarship available, Wesley replied that he’d earn his own. Despite having several conversations with Self about coming to Lawrence, he never brought up a scholarship.

“It was something Keith and I kept between each other,” Wesley said. “I went in there and told everyone I was a walk-on. It was a way to keep the pressure off of me.”

As a transfer, Wesley had to sit out his first year, but the significantly undersized power forward (185 pounds) spent day after day getting bullied in the post by future NBA big men Thomas Robinson and brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris.

The perseverance paid off for Wesley who, after that first year, received a scholarship from Self.

Justin Wesley

Wesley saw a decrease in minutes every year he played at KU, a frustrating outcome he attributed to sometimes putting too much pressure on himself. But he built relationships off the court in Lawrence that would set up him for the next phase of his life.

LIFE AFTER COLLEGE

Keith’s final year at Kansas was hampered by nearly a half-dozen knee surgeries. After being bypassed during the NBA Draft, he began his journey into alternating between NBA Summer League stints with the Mavericks, Bulls, Spurs and Seattle SuperSonics. During the next few years, he spent time playing for several NBA Developmental League teams.

During the 2007-2008 NBA season, he saw a combined five minutes of actions in two games with San Antonio before he was cut right at the January roster deadline. At that point, he knew he was done pursuing his NBA dream and decided to embark on what would become a highly decorated and prosperous career playing in many of the world’s best international leagues.

Keith Langford

Kevin knew that he wasn’t going to get drafted and did not want to put himself through those physical and mental hardships. So, he got some advice from his older brother and packed his bags for Europe.

“The only reason I was ready to do it was because of Keith,” Kevin said. “He told me ‘the first thing you need to know is that when you get off the plane, get in the car and go to wherever, you’re going to ask yourself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

“When I got to Germany, that’s exactly what happened. But his advice allowed me to get comfortable.”

Despite his age (32), Kevin believes his adventurous spirit and passion could allow him to continue playing the game professionally for another 10 years.

As for Wesley, his brothers said he had many interests outside of basketball like video games, skateboarding, and drawing.

Self saw that side of him too, and it led to KU’s coach successfully pitching Wesley as the title role in a student film that focused on the societal struggles of superstar Wilt Chamberlain during his time in Lawrence.

“They (the film’s producers) asked me if I knew any players that could play Wilt, and my first reaction was Justin,” Self said. “He’s tall, slender and ridiculously athletic, and he’s into that kind of stuff. I thought he would be good. It turned out he was terrific.”

Toward the end of his junior year, Wesley also directed a video of the team dancing to the “Harlem Shake.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

During this creative renaissance, Wesley met actor and well-known Jayhawks’ fan Jason Sudeikis, who introduced him to Matt Baldwin, the CEO and founder of Baldwin Denim.

Initially, Wesley believed that working in Baldwin’s store and the post-graduate business classes he took at Kansas would help jump-start his own clothing company, JUSTINKC. He still has plans to pitch investors on that idea and others, but he recognizes he needs a little bit more experience.

Right now, he’s attempting to secure a job in marketing or advertising departments with a major label, which he hopes will allow him to create a more successful pitch to future investors.

As for Keith and Kevin, both free agents are trying to enjoy a little bit of time off before their seasons start up.

When Kevin and Brakel met a short while ago, his former coach brought up the idea of his former star leading a team of his own from the bench. Langford initially resisted the suggestion, but in the days since that sit-down, he said the possibility has grown on him.

“He came back and coached a few of our camps right when he got out of school and it’s just the way kids gravitate to him with his personality,” Brakel said. “He’s got a great basketball IQ, a great love for the game and he’s very well spoken. What part of that doesn’t translate into being a great coach?”

Meanwhile, Keith explained that his substantial career earnings will allow him to take several years away from the game, which he plans to spend with his wife and two young children. As for the future, he hopes to start a consulting business that helps young college and pro players make the transition to professional basketball overseas, both on and off the court.

He’s also hosted charity basketball games at North Crowley in recent years.

Looking back, all three brothers agreed that there were times their age difference and commitment to the sport made life a bit challenging. They never spent much time together on the court. They almost always had to watch one another via online highlights, and holidays were often spent with at least one family member face-timing the rest.

But despite all of the time apart, everyone in the family works hard to see one another whenever they can and make the most out of every experience.

“One thing I was always proud of: If one guy went to a better school, made more money, had better games, no matter what, we were always genuinely happy for one another,” Keith explained.

“Sometimes you need someone to tell you, ‘It’s OK.’ I tell my brothers all the time, there’s a sense of peace I have, because I got there (the NBA). But at the end of the day, the important thing is that you are doing what you want for a living… there are so many people who want to trade places with you.”


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