Morgan's Langston adopts a new 'hood Guard swaps gang for peace, success

February 08, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

After his career at Crenshaw High School, Vince "Chico" Langston came face to face with the realization that, as one of the top point guards in Los Angeles, he had the talent but not the grades to be a Division I basketball player.

Langston, unlike many, took it in stride.

"I wasn't disappointed not playing major [college] basketball -- I didn't care about basketball," said Langston, who was recruited by Notre Dame during his senior year. "I just wanted to kick it in the 'hood with the fellas. I was happy to be close to the homeys."

His "homeys" were members of the Westside Rolling 60s, a set the notorious Crips gang that, along with the rival Bloods, has helped establish an atmosphere of fear in Langston's South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.

A member of the Crips since the seventh grade, Langston almost lost his life to the association six years ago, catching a .22 slug in the left side of his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame.

For Langston, there was only one way to escape the violence of Los Angeles -- leave. And the escape this year is 3,000 miles away at Morgan State, where he has played an instrumental role in leading the Bears into contention in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

A junior who played at Ventura (Calif.) Junior College last season, Langston's transition to Division I has been a success. He leads the league in steals (3.1) and assists (6.0). And his 15.5 points a game ranks seventh in the MEAC -- and is tops among league newcomers.

"He's one of the best point guards in the league," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell, whose team faces Morgan tonight in a battle of the league's top two teams. "He's quick as a cat, distributes and shoots well. What more can you ask? He's the total package."

Ask Langston and he'll say he's developing "the total package." Once known as a student who hit the books in high school mainly to stay eligible for basketball, Langston finds himself a true student.

"I've never read this much," said Langston, taking a break from a novel. "Before, if I got hurt I would have dropped out. But if I get hurt tomorrow, I'd still be here. I'm surrounded by a lot of people who want to see people like me get ahead. I'm enjoying this."

During a game, the first thing you notice about Langston are his skinny arms and pencil-thin legs. But that lack of size is no disadvantage in basketball, where Langston can dominate with his lightning speed.

"We used to get pressured a lot -- people don't pressure us anymore," said Morgan coach Michael Holmes. "He's done everything we thought he was going to do. He's a leader."

There was a time when Langston never thought he'd make it to age 22. Being caught in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong colors at 16 almost cost him his life.

"We were kicking it one day at a park, which was in a different 'hood,' " the soft-spoken Langston recalled. "These guys walked up from behind us and they put up their gang sign, and we gave ours.

"Then they started shooting," he said. "We started running and one of the homeys fell. I thought he was shot, and when I stopped to pick him up I got hit."

The bullet entered Langston's side and hit his liver, leaving him hospitalized for six weeks. Given a 50-50 chance of living, the recovery was a time for reflection.

"It made me think about the value of life," Langston said.

Still, Langston said, "You never really get out of" being in a gang. For Langston, the best solution was to leave.

"If there ever was a young man who completely turned his life around in a positive way, it's Chico," said Joe Weakly, who coached Langston at Crenshaw. "He was running around with some rough kids and he took a lot of lumps. He had to change his image to survive."

For Langston, the biggest transition to Baltimore has been getting used to the cold weather. But he appreciates living a lifestyle where he's striving to be something in life. And not to mention the chance to casually walk down a street and not constantly watch your back.

"I don't want to live like that again," Langston said. "And I have two brothers -- 2 and 4 -- and I don't want them to live like that either. I'm trying to do something with my life so that I can get my family out of that environment."

Langston will return this summer to Los Angeles, where he plans to play in the Pro-Am leagues in an effort to polish his game. He knows it's inevitable that he'll run into his friends of the Westside Rolling 60s, and he plans to greet them warmly.

"I'll always have my love for my homeys," Langston said. "But I'm mature now. I'm not going to go out with them and shoot anybody.

"They're proud of me, they're happy for me that I'm doing well. I just wish there were more of us out here doing this, and trying to get ahead."

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