Friar Basketball

Makai Ashton-Langford’s Transfer and Time at PC

Makai vs Minnesota

In December of 2014 I got my first look at Makai Ashton-Langford. Ashton-Langford was new to Cushing Academy that fall, as the NEPSAC Class AA powerhouse was in the midst of a transitional period.

Gone were Kaleb Joseph (off to Syracuse, and eventually Creighton), Jalen Adams (off to Brewster Academy, and eventually UConn), and Andrew Chrabascz (off to Butler, albeit not with Brad Stevens who he originally committed to), while Ashton-Langford and fellow highly rated recruit Kimani Lawrence were sophomores and the future of Cushing basketball.

Sitting between The Providence Journal’s Kevin McNamara and our Craig Leighton that afternoon, we watched Ashton-Langford fly up and down the court on his way to a 17 point, six assist, five rebound, five steal effort in a narrow win over Marianapolis Prep.

Just a sophomore, Ashton-Langford finished his first year at Cushing a 2nd Team All NEPSAC AA performer (the first team included three NBA players in Bruce Brown, Omari Spellman, and Terance Mann). The New England Recruiting Report ranked him fifth in New England’s class of 2017 during that season, behind Jermaine Samuels, Tomas Murphy, Hamidou Diallo, and Tremont Waters.

Thus began a prep career that included a lot of winning and lofty rankings. There was the run to the NEPSAC AA finals alongside Wabissa Bede in 2016 (where they fell to Bruce Brown, Xavier’s Tyrique Jones and Vermont Academy), the undefeated summer of 2016 with Mass Rivals (winning four titles along the way), and concluding his prep career with both NEPSAC Class A and Prep National Championships at Brewster Academy.

Prior to his final prep season at Brewster, Ashton-Langford’s recruitment came down to UConn and Providence. He was ranked 33rd in the country by ESPN in September 2016 — the third highest New England prospect behind Diallo (12) and Waters (32).

Providence hoped to add Ashton-Langford and Virginia center Nate Watson in the fall of 2016, but Ashton-Langford committed to Connecticut. When UConn assistant Glen Miller and UConn parted ways the following spring, Ashton-Langford re-opened his recruitment and pledged to PC soon after.

He became the highest rated player to commit to Providence since Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo five years earlier, stepping into an ideal situation — learning behind senior point guard Kyron Cartwright for a year before taking over the reigns as a sophomore.

The New England Recruiting Report wrote at the time, “Ashton-Langford is a talented playmaker with the ball in his hands. He has great end-to-end speed with the ball, terrific finishing touch, and the size and strong body to play through contact on his way to the rim. He is also a gifted on-the-ball defender.”

The mood in Providence was, unsurprisingly, giddy. Ed Cooley’s past three point guards had each turned into all conference players, and Ashton-Langford’s national and local rankings were just slightly below those of Dunn coming out of high school. Recruiting services aren’t infallible (nor are talent evaluators at any level), but rarely are top 40 recruits anything short of a very good four year player. Dunn, who like Ashton-Langford, didn’t have a jump shot coming out of high school, turned into a lottery pick at PC.

Truthfully, I didn’t follow Ashton-Langford closely during his lone prep season at Brewster. He was off to Connecticut, and his team was so dominant that it was difficult to get a great feel for his game in the handful of times I saw Brewster that winter. He had struggled against Bruce Brown in the NEPSAC Class AA finals a year prior, but Brown was over two years older and a physical marvel for a backcourt player at the high school level. Brown spent just two years at Miami before going to the NBA.

Ashton-Langford’s outside shot was a question mark coming in, but that was also the case with Dunn and Cartwright and both excelled at Providence.

Those were the question marks. What he did terrifically at the high school level was finish so creatively — spinning the ball home from tough angles, dropping floaters over defenders, and changing speeds well enough to seemingly get to wherever he wanted on the floor.

Ashton-Langford kicked off his PC career with what could have been an uncomfortable debut, as PC took on UConn in an exhibition game. He looked up for the challenge early, scoring seven points and grabbing three rebounds in the first half before finishing the night with 10 points, four assists, and three rebounds in 26 minutes as PC drilled the Huskies.

He led PC with 20 points the following exhibition game and put up 14 points and seven boards off of the bench in the third, and final, exhibition game of the season.

His freshman year started well with 8/3/3 in his debut versus Houston Baptist, and six points in 16 minutes against Minnesota, before an explosive flurry in the fifth game of the season against St. Louis in Madison Square Garden. He shot 5-5 from the floor and finished in all of the unique ways in which we’d seen in high school. He looked so explosive that night at MSG.

With an ankle injury slowing Cartwright in late November, Ashton-Langford averaged over 10 points per game during a five game stretch that included maybe his guttiest performance in a Friar uniform — 12 points, six rebounds, and three assists in front of a hostile Ryan Center crowd in Kingston.

He played big minutes in those games (18, 21, 33, 26, 23), but struggled the next two times out (1-7 shooting, 57 minutes) in a narrow victory over Stony Brook and an ugly loss to Houston.

His confidence seemed to waver from that point, and by the time conference play began Ashton-Langford had essentially become a 5-7 minute per game player. He wouldn’t crack double figures in scoring again until an 11 point outing in the regular season finale at Xavier.

Once his confidence went, the creative finishes and breaking down defenders seemed to go with it. And his forays into the paint came with far less authority. That carried over into this past season.

Providence’s point guard situation was simply awkward, with Ashton-Langford, junior Maliek White, and highly touted freshman, and Providence native, David Duke all vying for minutes and struggling to find consistency. The result was a largely clunky offense for virtually all of last season. Point guard play wasn’t the sole reason for the Friars’ offensive struggles, but it was certainly at the heart of them.

Ashton-Langford played fewer than ten minutes in six of PC’s first eight games his sophomore year, including a two minute cameo at Boston College in which he committed two turnovers and went right back to the bench.

There was speculation among the fanbase that he might transfer after the first semester.

Rather than transfer, Ashton-Langford seemingly returned from the semester break with a bit of his confidence restored. The first semester closed with him seeing six minutes against URI and two versus BC, while the second opened with 19 versus Central Connecticut State, and then 22 versus Albany, 19 at Texas, 24 against Creighton, 24 more versus Villanova, and 36 at Georgetown. He hit maybe the biggest shot in the win at Texas — a top of the key 3-pointer late in the second half, and scored 20 points on 6-9 shooting and 4-4 from 3 against Villanova.

The type of mid-season turnaround Ashton-Langford experienced in December and January is a rarity, yet still, he never looked like himself.

While the Nova game featured a sudden surge from beyond the arc, he dribbled out the clock in the closing seconds of that game with Providence still trailing by four. Two steps forward, a big one back.

After seeing 20-30 minutes for much of the Big East season, his minutes dwindled late, culminating in two minutes in the regular season finale against Butler, and then eight, 15, and nine minutes in PC’s three postseason games.

Ashton-Langford finished his Providence career averaging just under four points per game as a sophomore in around 17 minutes a night. His 3-point percentage bumped (.120 to .308), as did his free throw percentage (52% to 65%), but a Friar team lacking in offensive punch from the backcourt needed more. Beyond the numbers, he never seemed to find the confidence that he had at the prep level, or even early in his freshman year in the clips above. 

Shortly after the season, Ashton-Langford announced his decision to transfer, and earlier this week he committed to play at Boston College. He will sit out next season.

Eagle assistant Scott Spinelli coached Ashton-Langford’s father at the Winchendon School in the mid-90s, and there should be ample playing time available after incoming transfer Derryck Thornton graduates next spring.

There isn’t anywhere near the level of animosity from Friars fans as there was when center Paschal Chukwu transferred to Syracuse in 2015, despite both coming with huge expectations. In fact, there isn’t any animosity at all.

Chukwu’s departure left a huge void (a well-placed source at the time said the coaching staff was blind-sided by his decision), while the general feeling in Providence is that a fresh start was better for both parties in Ashton-Langford’s situation. Not only are Duke and White returning next season, but Providence added high-scoring point guard Luwane Pipkins from UMass.

Ashton-Langford carried himself with class during a turbulent, and assuredly disappointing, two year run at PC, and his presence at Providence played a factor in Duke and rising star AJ Reeves committing to PC. All three were AAU teammates during Mass Rivals’ undefeated summer of 2016. 

Now comes the interesting part for those of us who saw Ashton-Langford brim with confidence at the prep level. While he’ll certainly work on his jump shot as he sits out the coming season, what will be more intriguing will be to see if he can rediscover the confidence and attacking assertiveness that seemed to elude him at Providence over the past year and a half.

** Providence and Boston College’s contract expired this past season, so it is likely Ashton-Langford will not play against PC unless it is during postseason play.

2 Comments

  1. Andy

    July 10, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Of the 572 high-major collegians who played as much as the former four-star prospect did in 2018-19, MAL ranked just 571st in turnover rate, 569th in offensive rating, 567th in PRPG!, and 552nd in effective field goal percentage.

  2. Derec Lamendola

    July 14, 2019 at 3:44 am

    Providence College Men’s Basketball Has TO Do Something This Year And Lets NOT Talk About 2018 2019 Andy And Bexueee This 2019 2020 Seoasn And Becusee We Are Going To Be ALOT Beddter This Year And We Nedd That New
    Plery To Playing With US The Transferd The New Pleys Shrd Start This Yesr And Than Play With US And SO We Nedd TO Be Good And Becusee Derec Lamemdola Needs Makai Ashton Langfrod TO Play Boon Street With US Next Thursday Tell Makai Aahton Lanfgord TO Come Play With US AT Booon Street AT Narragansett And Becusee I Need Him TO Play With US Summer League And SO We Nedd To Do Be Redey And Come On Guays And We Need TO Do Something This Year And Becuaee Peovidence College Men’s Basketball Has To Wingit And Becusee We Nedd To Do ALOT Dune And Bscusee Providence College Men’s Basketball Has TO Be Redey For This Year You Know I Meen And. Come On Providence College Men’s Basketball When Dus Peovidence College Men’s Basketball GO Back To School And Becusee We Need Providence College Men’s Basketball TO Be Dune With Summed Class And GO School

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.