Langhorne Takes Her Game to Spain
Crystal Langhorne, as a high school basketball player, travelled to France with a select youth squad. When she got to the University of Maryland, Langhorne was part of a summer trip to Hungary, Austria, France and the Czech Republic for some exhibition games a few months after the Terps won the national title in 2006.
Now Langhorne, who had a breakout season as a second-year pro for the Mystics in 2009, is on her own in Europe. She lives in Rivas, Spain and is playing pro basketball for the second straight winter season overseas. During the 2008-09 season she played in Lithuania. "It is my first time ever in Spain," said the 6-foot-2 forward/center. "I am in a town about 15 minutes by car from Spain. It is a small town. It is not very big. People have regular jobs, just like back home."
The job for Langhorne, 23, who was born in New York and played high school ball in New Jersey, is to improve her skills on the floor as she gets ready for her third pro season with the Mystics in a few months. In her first 15 games in the Spanish league she was averaging 25.8 minutes, 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Her team also plays in the Euroleague, perhaps the best league outside of the WNBA and that allows for trips outside of Spain to face top European clubs. Langhorne averaged 33.4 minutes, 17.1 points and 5.5 boards in her first 10 Euroleague contests this season.
One of her teammates is Hungarian center Petra Ujhelyi, who played in college at South Carolina and was once a member of the Mystics before Langhorne turned pro. "She is one of my closest teammates. We hang out a lot," Langhorne said. The team also includes players from Serbia, Sweden and, of course, Spain. The Rivas coach is from Spain and uses several languages, including Spanish, English and French. "His English is decent. It is enough for him to get his point across to me," said Langhorne, who was the sixth pick overall by Washington in the 2008 WNBA draft. "I am learning some Spanish. We will see how that goes."
Langhorne was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player last season, as she averaged 29.8 minutes, 12.0 points and 7.9 rebounds in 34 games, with 22 starts. As a rookie she played in 34 games, with six starts, and averaged 15.6 minutes, 4.8 points and 4.0 boards. Now she is trying to improve her game even more while facing some of the top European players, and also Americans with WNBA experience. "The WNBA is more physical. This game is not as physical," Langhorne said of the Euroleague. "But you can not get away with what you would (on fouls) in the States. Europe basketball is a little different." One of the biggest challenges for American players, both men and women, in Europe is how travelling is called. A player must clearly put the ball on the floor before they pick up their pivot foot or walking will be called. Langhorne said she has been called for walking several times.
Despite the language barrier and new rules on the court, Langhorne is grateful for her time overseas. Her parents plan to visit her in Spain in March and she had family members come to Lithuania last season. "Just being in a different culture" is the best thing, she said. "I wouldn't be over here if I wasn't playing basketball. I love to eat so I get to see different types of food. This is a lifestyle that so many people would like to do." Like most American imports she is provided the free use of a car and a fully-furnished apartment while with the Spanish club. She has very few expenses, such as food and gas. Langhorne has a one-season contract and plans to be in Spain until May before joining the Mystics in time for the 2010 season.
She said the biggest challenge of being overseas is the distance from family and friends. The former Maryland star is able to bridge that gap with Skype, a phone service, and e-mail messages.
Langhorne said the Spanish women's league is much better than the one in Lithuania. "In the Lithuanian league there was one team that could compete with us. The league was very weak. This year I came to Spain and everything is very good," she said. Her Spanish team is in a Euroleague division that includes teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France and Poland. "Right now I am trying to reinforce some of the things from the WNBA season, like keeping my jumper consistent and working on my ball handling," she said.
Most European teams practice or train two times per day on non-game days, and that is the case for Rivas. Langhorne, on a recent Tuesday, said her team practiced for about 90 minutes starting at noon. She then went home and had lunch and worked on her Spanish. She was back at the gym around 7:30 p.m. for a two-hour session. She eats around 10:30 p.m. most weeknights and usually sleeps from 3 to 11 a.m. So can Langhorne envision a long career overseas while also playing in the WNBA? "I don't know. It depends. We will see what opportunities I have. I like to go with the flow," she said.
Editor's note: David Driver has covered college and pro basketball in the Washington area for several years. He covered American basketball players in Europe for three years while living in Hungary with his family, and filed stories from nine countries for North American publications, including The Washington Post, Oregonian and the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached through his website at www.davidsdriver.com.