Feb. 16, 2009

Over the past two months, a familiar name from the greater Boston area women's basketball circuit has resurfaced on the court, and fortunately for the UMass Women's Basketball team, it's a name that now shows up in the Beacons box score. You might recognize the name because it appeared in the Faces in the Crowd section of Sports Illustrated, or read about it in the Boston Globe or Herald where she was a four-time All-Scholastic team selection. Maybe you saw her play in one of her four Boston city championship victories for Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and possibly even watched her accept the MVP award of the city championships during one of the three occasions she earned the honor.

Not ringing any bells? Well, you could have read about her at the top of the Massachusetts Division II scoring leaders her senior season when she averaged 27.5 points per game and was named a McDonalds All-American. You might have even heard that she accepted a full scholarship to play Division-I basketball for the well-renowned St. Johns University, but in case you didn't, the name on the back of this high-school phenom's jersey reads; LANGFORD. Laniece Langford that is, and if it's the first time you're hearing the name, it most certainly will not be the last.

Langford joined the UMass Boston Women's Basketball team midway through the 2008-2009 campaign and has supplied the Beacons with a much needed lift, while providing much hope for the future of the program. The freshman point guard is averaging a team high 13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game and is also second on the team averaging 2.1 steals per contest. Indeed, these numbers do not compare to the stats she was putting up in high school, but one must take in to consideration that before joining the Beacons, the rookie had been away from the game of basketball for 18 months.

After enrolling at St. Johns University in the fall of 2007 to play basketball for Coach Kim Barnes Arico and the Red Storm, Langford immediately noticed that playing at the Division-I level was going to be very challenging.

"I remember the first time I stepped foot on campus, I thought it was so beautiful and that really helped me make the decision to go to school there," she said, "but the first time I worked out with the team I noticed that everything was faster and just totally different from what I was used to. I wasn't fully prepared for it or all the work, and it was really stressful."

So stressful that Langford decided she needed to take a step back from the basketball world so that she could focus on the challenging academics of the Business Management program that she intended to major in.

"It was just a lot all at once, and I needed to establish a routine before I could think about basketball again."

After rejoining the team for a few weeks before the fall semester's end, Langford ultimately withdrew from the University before the start of the 2008 spring semester.

"It just wasn't going to work. I'm grateful that St. Johns gave me the opportunity to play but at that time there were other things going on in my life that were more important to me than basketball," said Langford.

Langford returned home to lend a hand to her mother with the responsibilities of caring for her baby niece. She also took a job working as an assistant day care teacher to help out around the house, but for the time being, her basketball playing days were put on the backburner.

That was until Shawn Renee Polk, head coach of the UMass Boston Women's Basketball team, reached out to the former high school star and inquired if there was any interest to return to the court.

"I knew Coach Polk because during my high school playing days, she would occasionally officiate my games. She knew I could play and asked if I would be interested in joining her team at UMass Boston. Being at home for a while was great but it got a little boring. I love school and learning, so when this opportunity came up, I really couldn't pass on it. My mom always told me that you can't get a job without an education so to help her, I needed to help myself first."

It took Langford a few games to get acquainted with her teammates' style of play, but by her fifth collegiate contest, she recorded a double-double against Bridgewater State College with 15 points and 11 boards. She now has four double-doubles on the year and been named the Little East Conference Rookie of the Week three times, in consecutive weeks, to tie for the most in the league.

"Coming into the season, I didn't know what to expect. I hadn't played basketball in a year and a half, and I knew I was going to be a little rusty. Each game, a little more of the player I was in high school is coming back. We're a young team and we have a lot of learning to do still," Langford admits. "Coach Polk and her staff have been great to work with, and I know that we're just going to continue to get better. As the team's chemistry gets stronger, which it already has, we will all keep improving."

Having a player like Langford is certainly cause for some excitement for the future of the Women's Basketball program at UMass Boston. She is one of 12 underclassmen on the Beacons roster, so things are looking bright for the years to come.

"We are a better team with Laniece in our lineup," said Assistant Coach Josh Goldstein. "She is someone who can make a play."

And play she will. It may take some time for the freshman to return to her high school scoring ways, but with her work ethic and love for the game, it might not be long.

"It feels good to be back, but there is always room to get better and that's what I plan on doing."

Her name, Laniece Langford; remember it.