Ashley Langford, Stony Brook Women's Head Coach | Hoop Story #075

Ashley Langford, Stony Brook Women's Head Coach | Hoop Story #075

What was your first introduction to the game of basketball?

In my neighborhood, I lived in the middle of the cul de sac. So my neighbors, like two houses down from me, their daughter used to babysit me and their son used to always hoop. He had the basket outside in the driveway and his friends would come over and play. So that's kind of how I got introduced when I was young. I mean, I was in first grade, maybe a little bit younger than that, five or six. So that's how it first started, me just wanting to shoot with them. And then obviously, I got a little bit older, and the neighborhood grew a little bit. And then we got another neighbor on the corner and his nephew used to come on the weekends. By that time I had a hoop too, two, three years later. Now everyone's playing at my house in the middle because there's no traffic. So my hoop ends up being the best one and it's flat; we could just put it in the street, we didn't have to put it in the driveway. So then it became one on one games, 33, stuff like that. So that's really how I fell into it was kind of by accident, just by the neighborhood.

One of my best friends was on an organized team. And so I started playing organized in third grade. I was like, Dad, let me play. My dad was the one, he put me in everything. I played baseball, I ran track, I swam, I did gymnastics, I did everything. But basketball was the one that he didn't have to put me in, I went to him.

How influential was your dad in getting you involved in the game?

He wanted me to do everything and anything I wanted to do. Introducing me to a lot of different things. I mean, he played football, so he understands how sports are tools in life. But it's crazy because l fell in love with dance, I wanted to do ballet. It was wild”.

He just wanted to give me that opportunity. And obviously, he's a single dad so he had to work as well. We were fortunate enough and he was able to afford those things for me. He sacrificed a lot too. When I talk about being outside and shooting, it was in the wintertime, it was snowing and he was in gloves rebounding for me. Whatever I showed interest in, whatever I was passionate about, he was there to support me, obviously, financially, but also emotionally, and he just put me in the position to do what I needed to do and what I wanted to do.

It's funny, I talk to my dad a lot, but the other day, I'm like, how did I end up being tough mentally? I went through things, we all go through things, and I'm always trying to figure out how do I help my players or future generations. How do I help them get through things and how do I give that to others?

And what was his answer?

He says, obviously, some of it is just your personality. But he tried to put me in positions to really hold myself accountable. I’ll give you an example; here I'm young, I'm in high school and maybe I'm not playing where I think I should play. Like I should be starting, I should be doing this, I should be doing that. We all do that. We get home to our parents and instead of them being like, yeah, you're right, it was like, you got to figure it out. Like it’s his team, you’ve got to make him play you. How are you going to do that?

So instead of just taking my side, he kind of made me take accountability, and really think about, ‘Am I doing everything that I should be doing and can do, to put myself in a position to play.’ Obviously, in the moment I was mad, I'm like, you’re my dad, you’re supposed to stick by my side. But making me think about those things, not giving me an out necessarily, putting it all back on me in a delicate way, in a way where I wasn't defeated but I was more inspired to make him play me. I'm only gonna be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I did what I could do to make that happen. He always told me that you have to succeed, regardless of what's going on, you’ve got to figure it out. Because ultimately, that's what you want. No one else is going to hurt other than you.

When did you realize that you could play at the collegiate level?

Probably middle school. I used to go to Penn State Women's basketball camps every summer and the coaches kind of start talking to you or you get interviewed a little bit more than other people. And then you start being like, Oh, okay, maybe I can do this thing. But honestly, I don't ever remember being like, I have to go to college to play basketball. I don't remember it being that. I just kind of remember being pretty good and I wanted to continue to be good and I wanted to go to school for basketball.

In sixth grade, I was playing with eighth graders. That's another thing, now you’re around other older players who are now getting recruited or talking about college. So now it's like, okay that's just kind of what we do. It wasn't a thought it was just the next progression. That's how my dad raised me, it's like, alright, you’ve got this goal now you reach his goal, now what's your next goal? And then what's your next one? So originally, it was, alright, let me make the sixth-grade travel team. Oh, you made that? Now make this, now do this. So I think it’s a combination of all that.

Playing at Tulane for four years, what were the most valuable experiences you took from your time suiting up for the Pelicans?

Growing up. I think that’s what college does, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Obviously, Tulane’s a great education. People ask me all the time, would you do the same thing? I'm like, yes I would go to Tulane over and over and over again, it was the right fit for me. You learn so many different things, you learn a lot about yourself and who you are. You change in those four years, but you have to be exposed to different things. And I think that a big piece of my journey was that I went far away from home and I experienced a lot of different things that I wasn’t accustomed to in terms of people and locations, southern hospitality. It was a lot of different things for me.

When did the seeds of coaching begin getting planted for you?

Honestly my senior year, my head coach – she's kind of my model after in terms of why I decided to coach. She would always put me in leadership positions, and I didn't really know why it was happening, but it all made sense. My sophomore year, she said, you need to be in SAAC – Student Athlete Advisory Council. And she's like, by the time your a senior, you need to be the president. It was straight like that. And I was. I was able to reach those goals for myself because she realized it before I did.

But honestly, I wasn't thinking about any of that. I was like, alright, I'm either gonna go play pro, or I really want to get my MBA and I'll just go work in Corporate America. Obviously, I wanted to do something in sports. I thought maybe I could do sports marketing or something like that. But she's like, you know what you should coach. And I'm like, um I don't want to coach. I didn't think that I would be good at it, I didn't think I would want to do it. At that time I’m a senior, I'm tired of practicing. This chapter is over, I’m ready for the next chapter. And she’s like, no you’d be really good at it. She knows that I wanted to get my MBA, so she set me up with two interviews – Auburn University and Miami. They both had what I wanted, one had an MBA one had a sports admin program, but I could also be a GA with the Women’s basketball program. When I started talking to those coaches and kind of seeing it, I was like okay I can get my MBA paid for and I can still be around basketball.

I ended up going to Auburn and fell in love, it was a great experience. I kind of realized during that point that this was my journey. Obviously, I had to realize it myself, she realized it before me. But it took me a year and a half maybe to realize it myself, that this is my purpose and I’m a competitor.

When was the fire lit for you as a competitor and a coach?

I first started being competitive with recruiting, I was assisting the recruiting coordinator. I couldn't call or anything, but I'm helping do the mailouts, I'm doing all these other things. And I'm getting competitive with it. So that was my passion.

Then I had a player they kind of gave me to, she was struggling to finish. So I shot with her a little bit after and worked on some things. And a couple games later, she was able to make an and-one and she kind of looked at me on the sideline. It was like, this is what I'm supposed to do. And watching her be able to fulfill something, to see it actually happen and see her success made me feel so full. I was like, this is what I'm here to do.

Take us through a timeline of your coaching career leading up to landing at Stony Brook.

I was a GA with Auburn. Then after that, got my MBA and got my first coaching gig at Bucknell University. That’s a crazy story because our head coach resigned in the middle of the year, right before COVID started. So we had a scramble with some adversity. They ended up going in a different direction at the end of the year trying to find a new coach. And at this time, one of the coaches that I worked with had already gotten a head job at Denver and asked me to come with her out to Denver. So that's how I was out there for three years. And then I just realized, you know what, I'm an East Coast kid, that was the furthest West I'd ever lived in my life. All my family is on the East Coast. My nephew, when I went away to college, he was just being born. So I'm missing him growing up. At this point, I'm getting into my mid to late 20s so I'm like actually caring that I'm away from my family. So that's how I ended up at Navy. Navy was very different for me, which I thought was good. It got me close to my family.

Then I got a call from Karen Barefoot at Old Dominion and for me, I'm like, okay, this is getting myself back into the conference that I played in at a higher level. And then Barefoot ends up taking a job at UNC Wilmington and I'm like, well, that gets you further away from my family. That doesn't help me. So I ended up at James Madison with Sean O'Regan, just through a colleague, and was there for four years. To me, it is all about a journey but I think some places you get to and you’re like, this is it, it’s kind of where you grow the most. And those four years at JMU, I think is really what I needed at that time. Not only just stability but also to see your seed grow, get that confidence and go from being quote, unquote, third assistant all the way up to Associate Head Coach.

How are you approaching coaching the next generation at the head position?

The challenge as a head coach is you have to figure out your team every year and you have to figure out how they tick, what motivates them, what are challenges that they have individually. And then the next part, too, is obviously getting them all to perform at their maximum at the same time. So I think with this generation it's a lot more mental than ever before, and getting them to understand why you're doing things. And I think that this generation has a lot of exposure. And I think that's because of social media. So there's a lot of fears, right? I think fear of failure is a big one.

Understanding EQ. There’s an IQ, then EQ. EQ is what we deal with now more than anything. It doesn’t matter what plays I do, what offense, what defense, we’ve got to make them mentally tough and confident out there and empowered. Everyone has challenges, everyone has anxiety, everyone has these different things, it's life. So instead of ignoring those what we’ve done this year is really address them and went right at it. Because it's not going anywhere. So how are we going to give our players tools to cope with that? So when they’re in some adversity and they feel those emotions, how can they get through it.

I think I have a pretty good pulse on the team. And I know day in and day out what we're capable of. So to me, it's like, why are we not reaching that level? What's holding us back from that? And really diving into that with our team and giving them a voice to tell me what they think. They tell me, and then we do it. So it's really us working together. I had to adjust. Everybody can’t be coached the same way. I don't coach this team the same way I coach last year's team and we have six returners on the team this year, but I don't coach them nearly the same, because they're just different. And that's not a bad thing. Some players I can yell and they can just hear what I'm saying. Even though I'm yelling, they can hear what I'm saying and that gets them going. Other players, they don't hear nothing I'm saying because all they hear is the tone. So that's really been my biggest challenge in these two years. And I think overall, that's all our challenge with Generation Z, and just getting them to understand it's a process. It's progress. It's day by day. You’ve got to put yourself out there and try to work through failure. So that's what we've been doing over here.

We have to be able to give these women and give our players these tools to be able to deal with it, because they're gonna have to deal with that in life, man. I mean, I have a fidget box in my office. I have all these things to normalize it. It’s okay. We all have it. We've all been anxious at some point, right? We've all been a little upset at some point, it just trying to normalize that for them, so that they can understand that it's not anything to be ashamed of, but you do have to work at it. And how are you gonna overcome it and not succumb to it?”

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