Tags Posts tagged with "Ashley Langford"

Ashley Langford

By Daniel Dunaief

Learning a new basketball system was challenging: learning German was even harder.

For India Pagan, who speaks English and Spanish, communicating with her coach and fans in her first experience in professional basketball after graduating with a Master’s from Stony Brook University proved difficult.

Early in the season, playing for BC Pharmaserv in Marburg, Germany, head coach Patrick Unger spoke to her in English, but he’s “translating it in his head in German,” Pagan said. Sometimes, she took what he said the wrong way.

When Unger said something, Pagan recalled that she “took it in a personal way, which make me get in my head,” she said.

After speaking with Unger, she cleared the air, which helped her understand more of what he wanted.

Pagan lived and worked a continent away from her family in New London, Connecticut, who had been regular visitors and supporters during her college playing days as a member of the Seawolves.

Moises Pagan, India’s father, was grateful for the opportunity to connect with his daughter electronically. “Thank God for FaceTime,” he said. “That helped.”

Off the court, Pagan adjusted to life in a different culture while living in an apartment with three teammates. She and her teammates had some of the typical issues that affect college students who move in with strangers when they first start living life apart from their families.

Some of her teammates were more attentive to cleaning their dishes or buying necessities.

One of Pagan’s biggest frustrations was that she likes to sleep late. Some of her teammates would knock on doors and ask for something in the morning.

“One thing I learned is that when I get another roommate, I’m really going to set boundaries” so that she can get the rest she feels she needs, Pagan said.

In addition, Pagan, whose parents grew up in Puerto Rico and who has a strong cultural and national identity tied to the island territory, found it difficult to purchase the kind of foods she knows she enjoys eating.

Pagan’s parents Moises and Carmen sent their daughter a care package filled with spices and packaged foods. The only problem: it took 28 days to arrive. The parcel “sat in Frankfurt for eight days,” Moises Pagan said. He called the post office in the United States, and representatives said they also saw that the package wasn’t moving, but that there was “nothing they could do.” When the food items finally arrived, India brought a teammate who spoke German with her, to translate.

Amid local and global health concerns, Pagan said the team had its share of illnesses. In her first week in Germany, she was sick. “You have to be kidding me,” she recalled thinking. “I’m sick already and we weren’t even playing games.”

Pagan got the first week off. After that, she said, players on her team passed along a few colds, which weren’t Covid but were still unpleasant.

On the court

While Pagan had an opportunity to play and continue to develop her game, the team didn’t make the playoffs and was heading into the final few weeks of the season with a losing record. “We know we’re a good team,” Pagan said. “The majority of games, we lost by a couple of points. We never found our rhythm this season.”

Pagan went from helping lead the Stony Brook women’s basketball team through successful seasons to debuting on a professional team that struggled to put wins together. “Basketball will always be fun, but losing so many games by five points got really frustrating and obviously isn’t for anyone,” she said.

In addition to receiving ongoing and positive support from her parents, India Pagan also remained in touch with Ashley Langford, who coached Pagan during her final year at Stony Brook.

“It’s always great hearing from [Coach Langford],” said Pagan. Langford reminded Pagan that she’s a great player, that she should attack and play her game, and should believe in herself. “Small phrases like that” really helped, Pagan said.

Langford said she tries to remind all first-year professional players that there’s a learning curve and that there will be moments they don’t enjoy. “What I tried to tell India, too, is that it’ll get better and stick with it,” she said.

Langford also highlighted how the officiating is different. Players might get called for travels more or less often in one league. She urged Pagan to dominate, which, the coach said, would make it difficult to take her out of the lineup.

“You’ve got to make him play you,” Langford urged.

Personal growth

Pagan felt she grew as a basketball player and as a person. She described the German style of play as “quicker and more physical.”

When a shot went up, her coach wanted everyone to go for a rebound, rather than sending one or two guards back to protect against a fast break on the other end.

“In some respects, I am a better basketball player,” she explained. “I learned some new moves and learned a lot about my game.”

During the season, Pagan and two of her teammates couldn’t go home for Christmas. They visited with their head coach and his family, which included three children. “I was thankful for the family I got to spend time with over here,” Pagan said. She also visited bigger cities, which were over an hour and a half from where she lived, as often as she could.

When she returns home, Pagan is looking forward to visiting with family, eating crab legs and taking a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.

She has not decided where she’ll play next year and is exploring various options, including joining a Puerto Rican league.

Coach Ashley Langford. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Parents, coaches and teachers offer words of wisdom, guidance and advice.

At the same time, however, they also have opportunities to learn, particularly after the end of one year and the start of another.

And so it is for Stony Brook University women’s basketball coach Ashley Langford.

A year after she took her first head coaching job at Stony Brook, Langford took stock of her experience, while contemplating the next steps.

“I’m still high energy and enthusiastic,” Langford said at 3 p.m. .on the first day of school from her car as she headed to a late lunch. “I’m still excited to be head coach.”

A self-described “high achiever” who “wants to be the best,” Langford acknowledges that she may be an over achiever as well.

“Even when I reach my goal, for me, you’re supposed to,” she said. “There were times [last year] when we would win and I wouldn’t be happy. I want us to be our best.”

Langford, however, recognizes that emphasizing ways to improve, even after winning a game, was not ideal for her players.

“They are 18- to 23-year-olds,” she said. “They need to enjoy that win, regardless of how it looked. They need to be praised right in the moment.”

That doesn’t mean teaching and improving ends after a win. The next day, she said she felt more comfortable talking about how to avoid the possibility of letting a game slip away.

In her second year, Langford hopes she, her coaches and the team become more visible to the community, particularly because the team plays a “fun brand of basketball.”

Her debut season involved ongoing restrictions related to the pandemic, preventing her from connecting with the community.

“I need to be more visible,” Langford said. “It’s important that Long Island knows who we are.”

She is eager to go into schools and engage with members of the community.

“Community service is a huge piece of that,” Langford said. “It’s us going to schools and reading” or interacting in other ways with residents.

This summer, the basketball program ran an elite camp for players who were not at a recruitable age. Participants in the camp can come back to games for free, which, Langford hopes, can encourage other spectators to join them.

“Maybe they’ll bring a friend or two,” she said.

The Seawolves coach is excited for the opportunity to compete in the Colonial Athletic Conference. After participating in the America East conference since 2001, the Stony Brook Athletic Department decided to move to the CAA starting this season.

Langford will rely on some of her knowledge of her competition. Prior to arriving at SBU, Langford spent four years at James Madison University, which is a member of the CAA.

“I know the DNA of certain teams,” Langford said. She recognizes, however, that teams change, which means that the Seawolves have to be “ready to pivot.”

As she prepares the team, which includes four transfer students, for the upcoming season, she believes Stony Brook will be competitive in a demanding conference.

“We’re not in a league where you can have an off night and think you’re gong to win,” she said. “We’ve got to be ready to give our best.”

Thoughts from a former player and her father

Former fifth-year player India Pagan, who is preparing to play professional basketball in Germany this winter (see story in Arts and Lifestyles), remains connected to her former team.

“I’m really proud that we made it to another league,” she said. “We have to elevate our level, our intensity. I say, ‘We,’ like I’m still on the team.” Pagan said she still feels committed to a team she helped lead to consecutive conference championships.

Thinking back to the beginning of his daughter’s college basketball experience, India’s father Moises Pagan cited Stony Brook’s eagerness to recruit her.

“The fact that they put this powerpoint together, it blew us away,” Pagan said. “We walked away saying, ‘Stony Brook really wants our daughter.’”

India Pagan at Stony Brook University with her parents at graduation.

By Daniel Dunaief

With sneakers on her feet and a ball in her hand, India Pagan will circle the globe in a landmark year.

India Pagan
Photo from tStony Brook University

First, she earned a Master’s Degree in coaching at Stony Brook University, completing a five-year stint in which she also received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. After a brief journey home to New London, Connecticut to visit with her family and celebrate, she and her family took a long-awaited cruise to Honduras and Mexico. 

Now, the 6-foot,1-inch power forward, who completed a distinguished basketball career at Stony Brook, is practicing with the Puerto Rican National team, with whom she also traveled to the Olympics last year in Tokyo. Pagan and the team will travel to Serbia for a scrimmage and then to Australia to play in the World Cup.

But that’s not the end of her journey. After the World Cup, Pagan, 23, will fulfill a professional goal, as she signed a one-year contract to play professional basketball in Germany with the BC Pharmaserv Dolphins in Marburg, Germany. North of Frankfurt and east of Dusseldorf, Marburg is home to the Marburger Schloss (Marburg castle) and numerous medieval churches.

“It’s always been my dream to play overseas, so it’s a dream come true,” said Pagan, who is listed as a starter for the Division 1 German team. “To get paid to do what I love is really cool.”

The reality of becoming a professional basketball player started to sink in after she told family members she had signed a contract. When she shared the news with her mother Carmen Pagan, her mom “flipped out,” Pagan recalled. Her sisters Melody and Taina and family friends were similarly excited and “freaked out” about Pagan becoming a professional basketball player.

Reaching such a dream requires familial “teamwork,” said Carmen Pagan. “Any family member that is part of that group, everybody has to be committed to be there and support the child in different ways,” including emotionally, financially and academically.

When Pagan started playing basketball at the age of 11, the family made a “huge commitment” that included missing a “lot of birthdays, and a lot of family functions. We were always on the road, traveling throughout the United States” said India’s father Moises Pagan, who credits his daughter’s willingness to seize any opportunity to play as a catalyst for her basketball career.

One Friday night years ago, India received a call about a high school showcase in Queens. Despite heavy rush hour traffic and a five-hour commitment, she “didn’t even twitch,” he recalled. She said, “Dad, I want to go.” That’s where Stony Brook’s previous basketball head coach Caroline McCombs, who led the team from 2014 to 2021, saw her play.

Pagan is one of a few former Seawolf women to become a professional basketball player, joining Kaela Hilaire and Shania “Shorty” Johnson, who have also played in Europe.

Professional connection

After a solid showcase following her season, Pagan received numerous offers from agents to represent her. Choosing an agent was “like picking a school all over again,” she said. “I just had to see who was the right fit.”

Pagan selected Stephanie Stanley, president and founder of Merit Management Group who also represents one of Pagan’s favorite WNBA players, Washington Mystics Guard Natasha Cloud. That, however, was only one of several reasons she chose Stanley. The down-to-Earth Pagan thought Stanley was “like an old auntie. She had me laughing.”

Stanley, whose clients sometimes call “Momma Steph,” said she appreciated Pagan because she “likes players who hustle, play hard and look like they’re having fun out there on the court.”

Stanley also offered advice about the kinds of things to be prepared for when playing overseas. A team told one of Stanley’s clients they would provide transportation. When the player arrived, the team gave her a bicycle. “Lesson learned,” laughed Stanley. The player, however, realized that everyone used bicycles to get around in the country and appreciated the chance to lose a few pounds by pedaling back and forth to practice.

Another client had a choice of prepared meals or a financial allowance for food. The player sent Stanley pictures of food neither of them could identify. Stanley said these rookie contracts cover the cost of living and playing basketball. Rookies are “going to learn how to budget,” she said.

In the bigger picture, Stanley said the overseas market, particularly with Americans no longer comfortable playing in Russia amid the imprisonment and nine-year sentence of Brittney Griner, is having a “rough year.” Players who might have played for a top tier Russian team are heading to Turkey, Italy, Spain or France. The dislocation is affecting leagues around the world at every level. “Any player that signed now is impressive,” Stanley said. “It’s a rough year.”

Stanley added that rookies typically sign for one year in any league as players look to advance to more competitive leagues where they might also earn more money.

Pagan, who will be sharing an apartment with three other players when she arrives in Germany a day or so before the team’s first game, is excited for the opportunity and feels like the team and coach Patrick Unger, who lived in the United States for a year, support her. Unger has reached out to her on FaceTime. 

At the same time, the team, which consists of several German players, includes players who speak English. The team pays for utilities, housing and transportation and is providing money for groceries.

While Pagan is excited to get on the floor and start playing with her new teammates, she knows she needs to contribute. “I have to prove myself,” she said.

SBU contributions

India Pagan
Photo from the Pagan family

If Pagan finds the same kind of success in professional basketball that she had at the college level, she could be starting a promising career. She ranks eighth on the all-time scoring list at Stony Brook University, second in career field goal percentage and eighth in total rebounds.

Ashley Langford, head coach of a Seawolves team that won the America East conference championship last year in her debut season, was pleased for Pagan. “It’s awesome,” Langford said. “It’s what she’s been striving for her whole career.”

Langford appreciated the contributions on and off the court that Pagan made and the work her former basketball stand out put into enhancing her game. On the court, Pagan was “always really skilled,” said Langford. In the last year, she asserted herself more physically, moving closer to the basket and drawing contact from defenders, Langford said. She enjoyed watching Pagan show emotion on the court, flexing after she created contact and heading to the free throw line for a chance at a conventional three pointer.

Off the court, Langford admired the leadership role Pagan took in welcoming newer teammates, showing them around campus, offering advice about college athletics and helping them feel like a part of the Seawolves family and basketball program.  “That’s not me or anyone else telling her, ‘You need to connect with freshman.’ That’s her doing it on her own. That’s who she is. She wants everyone to do well,” said Langford.

Pagan encouraged her new teammates to snack because players don’t always have time for a structured meal and encouraged them to “use academic advisors wisely,” she said. “They’re there for a reason.”

While Pagan is excited about the next stage in her life, she is grateful for the time and opportunities she had at Stony Brook. “Eventually, that chapter had to end,” she said. The Stony Brook team will “always be a family.”

Growing fame

Pagan, who joined the Puerto Rican women’s team at the delayed 2020 Olympics last year in Tokyo, has started to develop an international fan following. Recently, she was at a WalMart in Puerto Rico and someone walked up to her and asked to take a picture with her. While Pagan was born and raised in Connecticut, she plays for Puerto Rico because both her parents are from Puerto Rico.

She  was also recently eating at a Chili’s restaurant with her teammates when an interview she did appeared on TV screens around the restaurant. “The waiter was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s you,’” Pagan said. Her teammates enjoyed the excitement.

Pagan has also received and responded to messages in German on social media. Once her professional season starts in Germany, Pagan will be far from home, where her parents can’t take the Bridgeport or Orient Point ferry to come see her the way they did at Stony Brook, a place the entire family still feels at home.

Indeed, one of the more emotionally challenging moments during her world-traveling basketball journey occurred when she played in Chile for three weeks. At 17, Pagan found it difficult to be so far from family, Moises Pagan recalled. That experience prepared her for her current plan to travel to Germany. “It makes the transition [to Germany] so much easier,” he said. FaceTime and a commitment to basketball have allowed Pagan to focus on her sport. “She just wants to make everyone proud, playing the game she loves,” he added

Ashley Langford. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

She hasn’t scored a point or dished out an assist in a college basketball game since 2009. That hasn’t stopped Ashley Langford, Stony Brook University’s first-year women’s basketball coach, from mixing it up with the players.

A point guard who graduated from Tulane University and who holds the school record for the most assists, scored over 1,000 points, and, despite being five feet, five inches tall, brought down 403 rebounds for 25th in school history, Langford plans to tap into her playing experience at Stony Brook.

“I’m a hands-on head coach,” said Langford, who most recently was associate head coach at James Madison University in Virginia. “I’m a demonstrator.”

Langford, who took over for Caroline McCombs this year when the former coach joined George Washington University, believes she can help a team that won back-to-back America East Championships by stepping onto the floor during practices and drills.

When she’s guarding them, she wants to “see them do a move,” she said. “At a certain point, they get too good” for her skills, which is when she pats herself on the back, especially after she sees her players exuding increased confidence.

Langford is pleased with the start of her time at Stony Brook, where she has felt welcomed and supported by Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron and President Maurie McInnis.

“This is a big reason why I chose to come here,” Langford said. “The administration is great and the president has been awesome.”

Langford appreciates how Heilbron knows the names of so many student-athletes, which is consistent with her approach to coaching.

Langford believes her players and the coach should have similar expectations.

“I need to be connected to my players, and I want them to be connected to me,” Langford said. “I want players to come into my office and talk. I want that relationship.”

Langford has been working within the limitations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules during the summer. She hopes to use this time to build a rapport with her team and help them learn her terminology and the drills she runs.

“I want to give them a preview” about her and the program, Langford said.

In making the transition from playing to coaching, Langford said she has tried to improve and grow. She believes she and her team should constantly strive to improve.

Coaching is “less about basketball and more about how you connect with your players,” Langford said.

To be sure, that connection doesn’t mean she coddles the team. She strives to be honest without sugarcoating the message. 

“When they’re doing well, I’m going to tell them,” she said. “When we need to be better, I’m going to tell them that, too.”

Langford explained that basketball has changed considerably since her playing days, as players have more resources available to them. She sang the praises of Elizabeth Zanolli, assistant athletic director for Sports Medicine, who supports the basketball and other teams.

Players also have nutritionists, dietitians, and strength and conditioning support, which improve the overall health and endurance of the athletes.

On the court, the men’s and women’s games have increasingly emphasized the value of the three-point shot, which means that most of the points in a game come from in the paint close to the basket or outside the three-point line, where long-range shooters can rack up points quickly.

Langford doesn’t see much of a difference between the men’s and women’s games.

“I want players to pass, dribble and shoot,” she said. “It’s that simple.”