As the cold New England air begins to give way to the warmer days of spring, seniors on campus know that with the nicer weather comes something else. It brings the realization that their time on campus is a couple of short months away from winding to a close. It brings a time to reflect on four years of college here that, for most, began a few months after senior year of high school. But for Trinity men’s basketball senior point guard Langdon Neal, it is a bit different. Neal came to Trinity as a junior, transferring from American University in Washington, D.C., meaning that he’s only been on campus for three full semesters. For Neal, a native of Chicago, Illinois, this final stop in his college basketball career has proven to be the culmination of the road less traveled by, and a journey he can look back on and smile about.
Neal began his college basketball career for the American University Eagles, a Division I program in the Patriot League who reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14 before falling to Wisconsin. Despite playing less than a handful of minutes for the Eagles, Neal still attributes part of his current success at Trinity to his time in D.C.
“We ran the Princeton offense and it was really tough to get into the swing of things,” said Neal. “But to run that offense, it takes a lot of discipline and that helped develop my game, things I didn’t even think about. Just working every day, going against the older guys on the team every day in practice was a battle, so it helped me develop my skills in a big way. I developed a lot as a player and that alone was an amazing experience.”
After his sophomore season, one in which he once again was only used sparingly, Neal knew he wanted more out of basketball and school. The idea of transferring after two years at any place can be unsettling but Neal understood the path he wanted to take for the final two years of his college career. “I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could play that was academically challenging as well.”
Neal was first introduced to the idea of Trinity by an assistant coach at American who had a prior relationship with men’s basketball Head Coach James Cosgrove. “[American Assistant Coach] Matt Wolff said there is a player we have who doesn’t get a ton of playing time but is a great kid, hard worker, and tough defender that would be perfect for you guys,” explained Cosgrove about the initial step in Neal’s transfer. “So Langdon came here, he visited, and he played with our guys. They all thought he would fit in perfectly for us, so we ended up taking him in as a transfer.”
“I was able to come here and right away, I loved the program,” said Neal. “Coach Cosgrove is someone I love playing for. He’s very defensive minded and preaches toughness. When I visited here, I immediately fell in love with the style of play that he preaches and the guys were awesome so I was able to fit in quickly.”
It’s easy to look back on the move now and realize how it benefitted both Neal and Trinity’s men’s basketball program, however the transition from a Division I school in D.C. to a Division III school in Hartford for a kid from the Midwest did not happen without some adjustment.
“It was definitely tough from an academic standpoint. It was tough to acclimate to that environment,” explains Neal. “It wasn’t easy on the court either, even though I have confidence in my game, it was just different. Before I was the underclassman who was fighting for minutes and now I’m trying to help the younger guys but also getting acclimated to life here and how to help lead the team on and off the court.”
Despite learning to adjust to his new environment, Neal made an immediate impact for Trinity on the court, appearing in all 27 games as a junior last season. He finished second on the team in steals, third in assists, fourth in free-throw shooting and recorded six or more points nine times coming off the bench for a Bantam squad that reached the Division III NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.
“Any time a kid transfers, it’s an adjustment. He had a little bit of a transition period when he came here, just how we play, and how we do things differently,” says Cosgrove. “But he has fit in seamlessly. Last year he was a huge contributor off the bench for us and this year he has been a mainstay as our starting point guard and has done a terrific job.”
His impact on the program hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates either. “He is a special individual,” says senior co-captain Ed Ogundeko. “He brings this energy in everything that he does. His lively presence is always felt by anyone he is around and he is a major piece to our team both on and off the court, because of that.”
This season, Neal is the unquestioned floor general for a Trinity team that is one win away from playing in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship game for the first time since 2008. He currently leads the conference with 2.7 steals per game, which also ranks 12th in the entire country, and is 10th in the league in assists with 3.3 per game. He is the team’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 7.4 points per contest while shooting just under 40% from the floor. To say he has adjusted well to life at Trinity would be an understatement.
As Neal reflects on his time, albeit short, at Trinity, he can’t help but reveal how much the game of basketball has meant to him. “The most important thing I’m going to take away from it all is the family, the brothers I’ve made playing basketball at the college level,” he says. “With the grind of a four to six month season, I have spent the majority of my days with these guys so we have become brothers. We learned these life skills off the court too that I don’t think I would have ever developed if I hadn’t played for a coach like Cosgrove who expects the most from his players on a daily basis. Basketball has taught me so much off the court, it really has helped make me the best person I could be.”
“He comes in every day and works hard,” adds Cosgrove. “It’s like he’s been here for four years. My only regret is that we don’t have him for two more years. We’ve had great guys around him and he fit in real well because he is just like them. He’s definitely become a leader more and more as his career has gone on.”
When talking about his journey, starting in Chicago and ending up in Hartford, Neal was asked which winter season he thought was tougher. “I’m going to have to go with Chicago,” he says. “It’s funny, I’m from Chicago and I’ve just never been used to the winter. I hate snow. But New England is pretty bad too because it’s so prolonged. You have a warm day and you think it’s done but then the next week it’s cold again.”
With a NESCAC Tournament Semifinals matchup against No. 9-ranked Middlebury on Saturday, the men’s basketball team is focused on extending the season for as long as they can. Despite Neal’s distaste for the cold New England weather, he and his teammates would surely trade away the warm spring days if it meant a longer basketball season.