| His basketball journey began in one famous land of the north, Alaska, and has found glory in another, the Russian capital of Moscow. In between, CSKA Moscow guard Trajan Langdon has played the sport at the highest levels possible. His professional career hit a peak on May 4 with CSKA's second Euroleague title in three seasons after a Final Four in which he was voted MVP and named to the All-Euroleague First Team. Langdon, who turns 32 this week, has found his niche on the other side of the world from where he started, although on occasion, as he says in this Euroleague.net interview, he has gotten closer to home than even he expected. "Vladivostok is on the water, and looking out across it I realized that Alaska was probably a two- or three-hour flight away, which is a crazy way to come all around the world," Langdon told Euroleague.net "And it did enter my mind that some of the experiences I have had, using basketball as a tool and as a guide, are really unbelievable...If I would have stayed in the NBA, there is no way I would have been able to experience the things I have been able to. Coming to Europe has been an eye-opener and will always be an experience I will never forget."
Trajan, just a few days removed from winning it, what sticks out in your mind about CSKA's second Euroleague title in three years?
"I'd say that the title we won a couple of years ago was unexpected by a lot of people. I think we were the only ones in Europe who believed we could win the Final Four in Prague. Especially after David Andersen was hurt early that season, a lot of people counted us out. We snuck up on people because they didn't expect our team to stay strong without him. This year, by comparison, we were one of the favorites the whole year, and that takes more of a toll sometimes. That kind of pressure, combined with some injures we had, meant we had to really come together as a team. We had some ups and downs, but to be able to stick with it and win in the end has been a great feeling."
One of the reasons you guys won is a kind of team confidence with supreme confidence, but did you ever have a doubt at any step along the way this season?
"Obviously, there are times in any season when you have ups and downs and as a team do not play your best basketball. But we knew that if we stayed together and played good team basketball, we'd have the chance to beat anyone. We just tried do that, stay together as team, and all of us believed that by doing that we would have that chance to win in it all. And we were able to accomplish that as the season went along."
Looking back on the season prior to the Final Four, was there a turning point for CSKA?
"As a team, if you want to go far and be successful and win a championship, I think you have to face adversity at some point. Some teams never do, but I think that if you want it all, facing adversity and overcoming it is almost necessary. When we lost our first playoff game against Olympiacos on Lynn Greer's buzzer-beater at home, that was adversity. We had to go to Athens and win what we knew would be a really tough game. And when they came out strong in that second game, we just told each other that we needed to stay together for 30 more minutes. We knew that those two games would be like the two in the Final Four for us, and that by winning them we would be ready for the Final Four. If we won both, we knew we'd have a great chance to win it all. No game in the Final Four was going to be more difficult than that second game in Athens, so winning it meant a lot for our confidence."
After halftime of the last two playoff games and both in the Final Four, CSKA outscored opponents 180-138, which is an average of 10 points per second half. What happens at halftime with this team?
"I think, looking back, that a lot of times in first halves of games, we were kind of lackadaisical. We didn't come out playing our best basketball. Then we looked at each other at halftime knowing we had to pick it up. And that's what we did. We knew it was not our best basketball in the first half and we had to play as hard as we could after. When we did it, in the third quarter, we were like two different teams. I think it surprised our opponents at times because they were expecting us to be the same team they had seen in the first half."
Of course, you were voted the Final Four MVP, too. Even though the Euroleague is true team basketball more than ever, is that individual award something you’ll be saving to tell your son, born earlier last month, when he gets older?
"Definitely, it will be a great thing looking back in 15 or 20 years to say that I was the MVP of the Euroleague Final Four. But for now, as I said after the final in Madrid, I still believe that it's mainly something that is given to one player on the winning team, and it happened to be me. The most important thing is that the team won and that's what I am most excited about. To play well and contribute to that team success is a great feeling for sure, and the individual accolade is nice, but it's not as important as the team winning. That's the best feeling in the world. If I had to choose between playing the same game I did and we lost or scoring five points and the team winning, I'd take the team win, of course. But it's nice to put the two things together as happened in Madrid, too."
During the Final Four you said that basically you found your niche here in Europe and would probably finish your career here. What convinced you that here is where you belong?
"I was convinced of that when I went back to training camp with the Los Angeles Clippers several years ago, after my second year in Europe, the season I spent with Efes Pilsen. I wasn't really given an opportunity in that preseason to try to make the team. After that, I came here to Russia and had a solid year with Dynamo, and then signed with CSKA, so I just said the NBA was not for me anymore. It was not that I couldn't play there, but if I had to prove every year I was good enough and then fight for a chance to make a contribution, I wasn't getting the chance to show it. I was already proven here in Europe, so it was a question of what was I doing stressing myself and being unhappy when I could come over here, have fun, enjoy playing and be respected in a really competitive league. I love the game and really love to play, and for me it's great to play here on high-level teams in a high-level competition. It was more important to me to play than to be on maybe the top level and not play."
What is your personal opinion about the progress of Euroleague basketball, assuming your first major encounter with European players was with Team USA at the 1998 World Championships?
"Actually, my first exposure to European basketball was at the junior worlds in 1995 in Athens, on a team coached by Kelvin Sampson. We lost several games, and in particular got hammered by a Greek national team with a lot of talent. That woke me up to what was happening here. They were darn good, a huge and talented team that beat us by 20. We had talent, too, but that was when I realized that teams here can really play basketball. And since then, I definitely think that teams are getting better across the board. Players understand even more now what teams need for success. No one is coming into games anymore and scoring 40 points, because people realize that against a team with someone scoring that many by himself, the team play of the other team is going to overcome that. Players understand now that sharing and dividing the points among them makes any team more difficult to beat."
Some people describe European basketball as a hybrid of the NCAA and the NBA. As someone with experience at all three levels, does that ring true for you?
"I'd say that's a pretty good analogy and comparison. Obviously, here we don't have quite the athleticism as the NBA has. And with the rules here, we can play more help defense here. I don't want to say that defense is not looked upon as important in the NBA, but it's harder to control with the individual player's talents and the game designed to let those individual talents come out. Here, the rules you have favor team basketball. Playing one-on-one is difficult, because if you beat one guy, there's another defender coming to stop you. In the same way, college basketball is designed to be a team game, with zone defenses, but the players aren't as matured yet in terms of knowledge of the game. Here, you have bigger guys with extreme knowledge of the game. They learn team offense and team defense from very early ages and they know what they are doing on the court. The idea of Europe being a hybrid between the NCAA and the NBA is a good comparison and I would definitely agree with it."
Another Olympics is coming up and full of Euroleague players. Will you be helping U.S. national team Mike Krzyzewski, your former coach at Duke University, with any scouting advice?
"I don't think he'll talk to me now. I think he's comfortable and confident with the team he has for Beijing, but if he feels the need to ask me anything, I'll be here for him. I think that Mike knows he has the team to beat going into the Olympics, but also understands that there are other teams out there which on any given night can win against his. If another team gets hot or the U.S. team doesn't respond, no matter how talented they are, there are teams here in Europe that on one night can still beat them. I think he understands that from two years ago, losing to Greece at the World Championships, and he'll come prepared to be able to avoid the same thing in Beijing."
When you travel to a place like Vladivostok to play Russian League games, not far across across the Pacific Ocean from where you grew up in Alaska, do you ever think you have been literally around the world thanks to basketball?
"I do remember thinking that, the first time we visited Vladivostok for a Russian League game. We went there early in the season, my first with CSKA. Vladivostok is on the water, and looking out across it I realized that Alaska was probably a two- or three-hour flight away, which is a crazy way to come all around the world. And it did enter my mind that some of the experiences I have had, using basketball as a tool and as a guide, are really unbelievable. Like I said once before in an article, if I would have stayed in the NBA, there is no way I would have been able to experience the things I have been able to. Coming to Europe has been an eye-opener and will always be an experience I will never forget in my life."