One thing I completely hate is coming to a game and being surprised about a player being on the court. It doesn’t happen so often, but every now and then it does especially in lower leagues where the information politics of organizations aren’t that widespread. I just like to be prepared and know exactly who I will be witnessing running up and down the court leaving everything they have on the floor. It was an hour before game time between Regionalliga team Bona Baskets Limburg and the Sunkings Saarlouis in September 2021 when I took some time to talk to one of my favorite players in Germany Mr Regionalliga Ricky Easterling. Basketball wasn’t even the main topic, but moreover life in general and all the hardships people have suffered with COVID and my cancer victory also was on the menu. I don’t remember exactly who told me before the game that a certain TJ Lang (201-G-1995, college: S.Florida) was playing, but I do remember being told this dude balled in the G-League. I was impressed right away. I mean it isn’t every day that you can observe a guy with those qualities in the German fourth league. I didn’t know it at the time, but everyone in the gym were about to experience an incredible display of scoring that is seldom seen in the Regionalliga unless your named Ricky Easterling who averaged 34,0ppg and 32,0ppg in a season early in his Regionalliga career. The fans would be in for a treat seeing a season opening scoring fest with 242 points and a Jesse Ani buzzer beater. The only down point for Limburg fans was that they would lose the game on a buzzer beater in OT. What was even stranger was that the buzzer beater wasn’t accomplished by a Easterling or Lang, but by young German Jesse Ani. The game got going and this rookie TJ Lang just began doing his thing and never stopped. The guy never averaged more than 7,0ppg in the NCAA, but he learned his scoring somewhere. He showed his amazing inside out qualities driving and scoring with ease but also dazzled everyone with his great shooting touch dropping 11 three’s. At the end of the contest, I would have guessed he had scored somewhere around 35-37 points, but at the end it was a tantalizing 45 points. At the end of the game he was as humble as could be about his amazing rookie performance after playing his last NCCA game on April 5th 2019 against Depaul. He never had an explosive game like that in college, but had showed his scoring instincts earlier in life. ‘In high school I actually had 46 in a game in Atlanta. I’ve always knew I could score big numbers but the majority of the teams I have played on have been so talented in every position that we all could score. So I had to find different ways to help impact and help the team win’, said TJ Lang. As is so often the case, he had no idea that his scoring output was so high at the end. ‘I was just playing the game and taking what the defense gave me. I actually missed some shots I felt like I should not have missed. But, I honestly was just trying to win it wasn’t until after the game my manager and teammates came and told me after and I was just as shocked as everyone else was’, remembered TJ Lang who last saw the flick Candyman. Ricky Easterling was eves dropping on my conversation and you couldn’t have had two more humble guys side by side. It wasn’t until I did research when I got home where I discovered that his dad is ex NBA player and two time NCAA winner with Duke Antonio Lang. You would never have thought that he had a famous dad. That was how humble he was. He had to learn to be that great teammate in the NCAA something that will surely carry over into his professional career.
TJ Lang who lists Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore was born on December 26th 1995 in Mobile, Alabama. One might have thought that being the son of a well known ex NBA player might have it’s downs, but it actually didn’t. ‘It actually was pretty cool growing up I felt like I had to live up to expectations. But, as I started to make a name for myself basketball wise and get some national recruiting attention I kind of came into my own and people didn’t even refer to me as son of a NBA player but a great player myself’, stressed TJ Lang. His dad has been a very important influence on his life since childhood and it’s still present today. ‘ I talk to him every day. In the off season I work out with him also. He teaches me a lot though playing in the NBA and overseas so he gives me a lot of pointers that normal people would never be able to have. But the workouts and the teaching points he has given me has definitely made me a better player’, warned TJ Lang. When it comes to boasting about the zillion memorable stories he must have had with NBA legends in the last 15 years, he prefers to refrain and remain humble. ‘I really don’t have any memorable stories I’ve meet so many people it’s kind of like normal for me especially with him being a coach in the NBA now they are like family to me. The craziest thing people say to me is when I tell them I have photos with Shaq holding me and Grant Hill pretty much being family to me I can always reach out and talk to him for advice or about anything’, stated TJ Lang.
He attended McGill-Toolen High School and put up impressive stats in his last two seasons averaging 17.1ppg, 4.9rpg 2.1apg, 3PT:43.2%, FT:82.1% as a junior and 19.4ppg, 8.4rpg, 3.2apg, 3PT: 38.3%, FT: 78.4% in his senior campaign. He achieved AWSA Class 6A Second Team as a senior and Mobile Press-Register Coastal Alabama Player of the Year as a junior. He committed to Virginia Tech, but a coaching change allowed him to switch to Auburn (NCAA). He played three seasons there playing a total of 86 NCAA games. He never averaged more than 7,1ppg at Auburn, but he had a particular role that he was able to fulfill and has good memories of his three years there. ‘It was a great experience playing at the highest level of college basketball. I was given the role of being a 3 and D player. I had to shoot every time I was open. I was also tasked with guarding players like Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray some nights and then other nights Ben Simmons or Danuel House so I experienced a lot’, stated TJ Lang. Even though he never was able to be that high scale scorer, he accepted that he had to shine in other ways. ‘It was disappointing but there were things out of my control that contributed to that so I just had to be a great teammate and find another way to help my team win but that ultimately led to me transferring schools to get a better opportunity’, stated TJ Lang. He finished his sophomore season well having some vital scoring games in wins over Arkansas and Georgia. He then finished at the University of South Florida. There he also didn’t have a major offensive role averaging only 5.5ppg, 2.1rpg, FGP: 39.0%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 70.7%, but it was another experience that was worth it. ‘My fondest moment was winning the CBI championship with my teammates. I had games there where I had to play the point guard which I didn’t have to do since high school. So that helped me out in my pro- career because I got back out of the mindset of just being a shooter to going back to how I played during high school and AAU’, expressed TJ Lang. At South Florida he rarely lost a shooting contest and split against teammate David Collins in the game king of the hill and will never forget his two college coaches Brian Gregory and Bruce Pearl who helped him mature into a professional player. ‘They taught me how to handle adversity and pushed me to be a better player and person every day. I was team captain for both teams under both coaches so I had a lot of responsibility put on my shoulders but I could handle it’, remembered TJ Lang.
The Alabama native who has Jared Harper , Bryce Brown, Kareem Canty, Laquincy Rideau, and in high school AAU Jaylen Brown as his best five teammates of all-time was slowed down a bit becoming a professional player. Technically he could of began his professional career in 2019, but instead signed his first pro contract in 2021. In 2019 after finishing school he decided to press his luck at home and pursue a career in the G-League. He had some workouts and was going to go to training camp with the Canton Charge. He turned down offers overseas and was drafted by the Maine Red Claws. The G-League didn’t work out so he signed in Australia, but then COVID came stopping the season. He didn’t want to just sign with just anyone, but waited for the best opportunity and the Sunkings Saarlouis turned out to be the best. Of course having to experience COVID just like everyone else hampered his basketball life. Even if he didn’t play professionally earlier, the time away from the competition was used wisely to becoming best friends with his own game. ‘ It was definitely different not being able to get in the gym every day and workout or travel. It made me miss the game so much so it motivated me to work on my ball handling and things that I could do outside or at my house. The job market was all over the place to jobs I recently was offered before were taken by good players so I just had to make sure I was in shape and ready’, expressed TJ Lang. Of the court, he was able to take positives from COVID that will benefit him in life now and in the future. ‘I feel like it definitely made me stronger. It made me slow down as a player and person and take every day as a blessing and make the most of it’, warned TJ Lang. Even if the Regionalliga is worlds away from the NBA and not around the corner from the G-League, he saw the Sunkings Saarlouis as a very positive adventure. ‘I loved playing there, we had a lot of offensive freedom in the offense and defensively. We had guys who communicated well and as the season went on I felt like we got better. But everyone here was really welcoming and definitely made Germany feel like home for me’, said TJ Lang. He also couldn’t have found a better teammate than Ricky Easterling who has dominated the German Regionalliga for more than a decade and has a mid range game that would make Kemba Walker smile as a mentor to help him adjust to overseas basketball. ‘ Ricky was amazing and he pushed me every day to continue to be the best player I can be. We worked out every day and got shots up together every morning so he’s definitely took me under his wing and I just tried to soak up everything he told me to make myself a better player and person’, stressed TJ Lang.
The ex Auburn (NCAA) player remembers Devin Booker and DeAaron Fox as being his toughest opponents in the NCAA. He played against Booker in high school and remembers him being unguardable and you had to hope he missed. Fox was one of the fastest players he ever saw and also remembered Ben Simmons as very tough to guard. Playing against incredible competition like that helped shape and develop his game at the NCAA level. The 201cm guard compares his game to Klay Thompson in regards to shooting, defense, and size. He also watches a lot of Bradley Beal in order to learn how to create space and taking tough shots. He has displayed his potent shot, but his game has so many more attributes. ‘I have been working on my ball handling and passing. I have been able to shoot but teams key on that so I have just been trying to be just as efficient off the dribble making tough shots and creating for my teammates’, commented TJ Lang. He also knows that in order to become that very special player and keep moving up the basketball ladder, he will have to be more than just an outstanding offensive player. ‘I feel like I can be very good on defensive end. I had to put my scoring to the side in college at Auburn and guard the best player from every team from the point guard to the 4 man. I feel like when I step on the court I can guard anyone at any time’, warned TJ Lang. He wants to be as multi talented as possible and continues to grind in the gym to get better. ‘I’m continuing to work on creating shots for myself. The more versatile I make myself with being able to run the offense from a point guard role the more dangerous I feel like offensively I will be’, stressed TJ Lang. It will be interesting to see where TJ Lang‘s journey will go in the next years. He has already proved that he can be a great teammate in the NCAA. If he can continue to be a great teammate overseas, then he will go far, because being that great teammate weighs so much more overseas then it does back home.