Hoop pro Trajan Langdon returns to inspire Alaskans

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A rumor swept through Unalakleet last summer that nearly caused the village to shut down.

Trajan Langdon was coming to town.

Speculation quickly spread about one of the state's prominent sports figures. People swarmed the single-lane airport with hopes of meeting Alaska's first NBA player.

''It was very exciting,'' Unalakleet resident Loretta Tweto said. ''Half the town went, thinking he'd be there.''

The rumors were unfounded.

The 26-year-old former East High basketball star was never scheduled to fly into the western Alaska village. The so-called celebrity on the plane, Tweto said, turned out to be a representative of Sprite, the soft-drink company sponsoring Langdon.

Tweto remembers leaving the airport disappointed, thinking how Langdon probably would never visit a place like Unalakleet. Not many stars do.

''The Harlem Globetrotters came here 30 years ago. But that's really been it,'' she said. ''Big names just don't visit.''

Langdon's going to change that.

He will be in Unalakleet on June 21 for a free basketball camp for kids. Langdon will conduct similar one-day camps in Barrow on June 19 and Anchorage on Aug. 2, plus offer scholarships for his inaugural Lace 'em up Camp in Seward July 22-27. Joining him in Seward will be fellow Duke alumnus Shane Battier of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Langdon, a three-year member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but currently a free agent in search of a team, has regularly returned to Alaska since leaving eight years ago.

This time, though, he's taking his show to the Bush. It's a gig he hopes to continue, bouncing from city to city and village to village.

''I want to change locations,'' Langdon said. ''You know, hit a different place every year.''

He put on a one-day camp last summer in Aniak and spoke to students in Kotzebue while he was still in high school, but that's the only traveling he's done in rural Alaska. That's why Langdon decided to include the Bush in plans this summer.

To Langdon, giving back to the community is a commitment that extends all over the state, not just his hometown.

''To make an effort to get out there was important to me,'' Langdon said. ''They don't get opportunities like the kids in Anchorage get.''

Langdon plans on being an active instructor, one who will give each kid individual attention rather than bark group instructions from the sideline. He wants to teach the game he loves one-on-one.

''I'm not just a guest speaker,'' he said. ''I'm interested in teaching the kids something and seeing how it could help them.''

Langdon's popularity in Alaska should make his camps a must-do activity for young ballplayers, especially in the Bush, where kids typically travel hundreds of miles and pay hundreds of dollars to attend top-notch camps.

Tweto envisions another ghost-town scene the day Langdon visits.

''Every time he's on the news, people here are glued to it,'' she said. ''Oh, man, the kids are going to be excited to meet him.''

Langdon enjoys encouraging kids to get good grades and participate in community service as much as he likes showing off his textbook shooting technique.

''Alaska has always supported me,'' Langdon said. ''That's why I'm so willing to give back.''

The spotlight is nothing new for Langdon, who started signing autographs even before he scored a basket in high school. Neither is his community awareness, a feeling that only increased once he reached the NBA and started making millions.

''It's easy to sit on success,'' said Trista Langdon, Trajan's 23-year-old sister. ''But my brother is a good person who does nice things.''

Langdon, who now lives in Chantilly, Va., has continued to support Anchorage youth programs since moving to the East Coast. Dolores Waldron, director of the Alaska Basketball Development Program, has known Langdon for nearly 15 years and said he's the same gentle, success-driven person he was in middle school.

''He could take the attitude, I don't live (in Alaska) anymore.' But he's just not that type of guy,'' she said. ''Trajan is just so wonderful.''

Langdon contributes ''thousands of dollars'' each year to the Alaska Basketball Development Program, Waldron said, which allows the nonprofit organization to operate year-round at Fairview Recreation Center.

''He's made a big difference for our program,'' she said. ''That's no lie. He's made a whole lot of things possible.''

Langdon's programs are created to do more than keep kids off the streets. They are designed to help kids understand the value of hard work and the importance of wanting to be more than just a basketball player.

''I want them to know how they can have success being a better person, too,'' Langdon said.

In his annual Christmas tournament at the Fairview Rec Center, kids play for free if they bring canned goods, which are donated to the Food Bank of Alaska. In his summer league, players -- nicknamed Trajan's Troops -- need to perform 10 hours of community service to participate at no cost.

Last summer, Langdon went to each work station where his troops were volunteering. He made sure each kid recognized the significance of doing something for others.

''It's kind of always been in my nature,'' said Langdon, a high school honor student who graduated from Duke University with degrees in history and math. ''I fit the mold.''

So much, in fact, the Trajan Langdon bobblehead doll has him holding a basketball in one hand and a book in the other.

His Lace 'em up Camp in Seward certainly isn't just about basketball -- not when participants are advised to bring boots, a jacket and a warm hat. That's because Langdon has other activities planned such as camping, hiking, fishing and sightseeing.

''The idea is to give them an opportunity to experience a lot more than just basketball,'' Langdon said. ''It's going to be a lot of fun, something we'll all enjoy.''

The Seward camp is open to 300 boys and girls in grades 3-12. One-third will attend for free on scholarships provided by the Alaska Public Radio Network, Phillips Alaska and Langdon. The other 200 campers will pay between $250 and $350 to participate in the six-day event.

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