CHAMPAIGN — Since arriving at Illinois about a year and a half ago, Alabama native Devin Langford has acclimated himself to life in the Midwest — almost.
“It’s so different up here, but I’m pretty well-adjusted,” he said. “Not to the weather, though.”
The winter months in Champaign can be especially tough for a Southerner, so Monday was Langford’s kind of day. The high temperature reached 72 degrees, a record for Dec. 3.
“I can get used to this,” he said. “It’s real nice out there, but I know it’s not going to stay like this.
Luckily for Langford and his Illinois teammates, the Illini play their games in climate-controlled arenas. And as the season has progressed the redshirt freshman has shown steady improvement for No. 13 Illinois, which hosts Western Carolina at 7 p.m. today at the Assembly Hall.
Talk of Joseph Bertrand’s heroics dominated the conversation after last week’s win against Georgia Tech, but first-year coach John Groce made a point to mention Langford afterward, too.
The 6-foot-7 guard/forward played just seven minutes and didn’t score against the Yellow Jackets, but he grabbed two rebounds — one offensive — and played lockdown defense in his seven minutes to give the Illini a spark.
“I think he’s making some progress, he’s practiced pretty well,” Groce said. “He’s continuing to grow and develop. He’s taking care of the ball, he’s defended well, he’s rebounded well.”
A heralded recruit out of Lee High in Huntsville, Ala., Langford’s Illinois career got off to a slow start after he broke the ring finger on his left hand in the preseason, then suffered a deep thigh contusion that sidelined him for an extended period and ultimately led to him sitting out the entire 2011-12 season.
Langford used the setbacks as an opportunity to study the game.
“I learned a lot from the older players. Sam Maniscalco helped me a lot and he just told me to make sure I was learning something throughout the year while I was watching,” Langford said. “I just watched how other players played and just how the system of college basketball works.”
Langford has shown the coaches enough early in the season to continue seeing minutes off the bench, though his defense and overall knowledge of the system can use some more fine-tuning.
Teammates are happy to see Langford, who used to prepare the team for games last year by dancing in the middle of the huddle, on the floor contributing during the 8-0 start.
“It’s good to see him start to gain some confidence and get going with his career,” sophomore guard Tracy Abrams said. “He handled last year well and it’s just good to see him getting better.”