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Trajan had become the most-sought-after Alaskan athlete ever by the time Krzyzewski visited Anchorage in the summer of 1993, and he and Trajan shared an evening stroll backlit by the northern lights. Says Krzyzewski, "When we saw that amazing light show, I told Trajan, 'Hey, this is a sign that you've got to come to Duke.' "
In his final two high school games Trajan scored a total of 79 points and led East to its third straight state title. After the championship game so many spectators wanted his autograph that officials organized a formal signing session, seating Trajan at a table at one end of the gym as hundreds of fans filed by to get his signature.
Such is the passion that drives Langdon's popularity. At age 16 Trajan was invited to speak at the spring awards banquet at Craig High in the town of Craig, 750 miles southeast of Anchorage. He doled out hardware and advice to a group of teenagers, many of whom were older than he. Before Langdon's freshman season in college, Andy Lohman, a Duke graduate and the general manager of Anchorage radio station KKSD, purchased a special satellite receiver to pull in the Duke Radio Network so his station could broadcast all the Blue Devils' games to the 49th state. Trajan has begun turning up on Alaskan birth certificates, including that of the four-year-old son of former Alaska-Anchorage assistant and current Southern Utah coach Bill Evans, whose Thunderbirds lost to Cincinnati in the opening round of the Shootout.
The Great Alaska Shootout and Langdon have grown up together. He attended the tournament every year from its inception in 1978 until he left for college, ogling the likes of Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, Danny Manning and Glen Rice. Duke's invitation to the '95 Shootout was the realization of Langdon's childhood fantasy, but he injured his left knee that fall and couldn't play in the tournament. Cheering from the bench in a suit, he watched his teammates win the Shootout title, an experience he calls "the most disappointing week of my career."
It was supposed to be Langdon's only appearance at the Shootout, which at the time, according to NCAA rules, could invite a team only once every 12 years. So naturally Langdon thought Krzyzewski was joking when Coach K informed him two years ago that the eight-team tournament's invitation policy had been modified, allowing Duke to return this season. When the final 8,700 tickets to the Duke games in Anchorage were put on sale on Nov. 2, they sold out in 40 minutes. Wherever Langdon turned up last week he was greeted by admirers, prompting teammate Elton Brand to joke, "Man, Tra, you sure have a lot of cousins."
"It's humbling," Langdon says of the hoopla. "Sometimes I've found myself thinking, What in the world is going on here? I don't deserve this."
Laminated newspaper photos of Langdon line the walls of the 29-foot-long basketball gym at Aniguiin School in Elim, a remote Eskimo village deep in the bush about 90 miles southeast of Nome. Langdon is an idol to most of the 100 students at Aniguiin, none of whom has seen him play because the one television station Elim receives rarely shows college basketball games. Aniguiin's principal, Rod Hoegh, tried to organize a trip to the Shootout for some of his students, but Elim is accessible only by small plane, so the logistics of an excursion to Anchorage proved impossible. Instead, Elim kids followed the Shootout as best they could on the Internet.
Elim's story is typical of many Alaskan villages, where the people admire the idea of Langdon without much firsthand knowledge of him. Many of them have no idea that Langdon is among the finalists for the Naismith Award or that he could become the first three-time first-team All-ACC player at Duke in 19 years, but they all know that he has an excellent chance to become the first Alaskan to play in the NBA.
Trajan's appeal crosses ethnic lines. Steve is Caucasian; Gladys, a social worker, is African-American; and young Trajan spent lots of time visiting villages with his father, whose area of academic expertise is Alaskan native culture. Among the lucky kids who made it to Anchorage was 16-year-old Craig Carter, who met Langdon at the Craig High awards banquet and still receives a Duke poster in the mail from Langdon every fall. There was Tikigaq High basketball coach Rex Rock, who came all the way from Point Hope, a village of Eskimo bowhead whalers 700 miles northwest on the Arctic Ocean. Rock brought four members of his Tikigaq Harpooners and his 18-year-old son, Rex Jr., who admits to pulling a few all-nighters drawing pencil sketches of himself playing hoops alongside Langdon. And there was Rahim Abdul-Basit, Muff Butler's 17-year-old son. Butler is currently in a Texas prison on a drug charge, so Rahim, a senior swingman for East High, has consulted with Langdon in his father's absence, absorbing some of the same wisdom that Langdon once heard from Butler.
Last Friday night Langdon, the second-best three-point shooter in Duke history, missed six of his seven three-point attempts in the first half, while Duke made 1 of 13 as a team. Alaskans hadn't seen aim that bad since Captain Hazelwood. The Blue Devils eventually overpowered Fresno State in the second half for a 93-82 victory. While Langdon finished with a team-high 26 points, he made only 8 of 19 shots, a tough night for a perfectionist. "When I miss two shots I expect to make the next two, so I kept firing and waiting for the law of averages to kick in," said Langdon, a math major. "I guess I'm still waiting."