The Chronicle celebrates one of Duke's most successful decades by honoring our top 10 Devils of the Decade. Each Tuesday, The Chronicle will feature one of the selected athletes. Today we profile athlete No. 9, Trajan Langdon.
Is it fair to judge a man by six seconds of his life?
In his five years at Duke, Trajan Langdon became the school's all-time three-point leader, helped spearhead Duke's return to glory and embodied all that is good about the student-athlete.
But ask some people what they remember most about Langdon-then only six seconds of that brilliant career seem to matter.
There's no need to retell the tale. In the final six seconds of his career, Langdon had two chances to either tie or put his team ahead in the 1999 championship game against Connecticut.
Both times, he failed.
For the first 39 minutes and 54 seconds of the game, Langdon had poured in 25 points, provided Duke its only consistent source of offense and hit a clutch three-pointer with 1:43 left to bring Duke within a point of the Huskies.
For some people, those irrelevant details do not matter at all. To them, Langdon epitomized failure.
They only saw one side of the story.
Langdon wanted the ball. The fifth-year senior had suffered through the dreadful season of 1994-95 and watched the team gradually climb back into national prominence. There wasn't a better way to complete that circle than for Langdon to hit that final shot.
"There's some people that wouldn't want the ball in those situations-they would run away from it," Langdon said. "You're either going to be the hero or you're going to fail. I looked upon it as a chance and a challenge.
"It's the way I wanted to step up. I'd been here
It was, simply put, Langdon's time to stamp the final imprint on his chapter of Duke basketball.
"We were going to win it with me taking the shot, or we were going to lose it," Langdon said. "It just so happens that we lost the game. I would do the same thing over and over.
"For those that look at me and say I failed at that time, I think they'd have to look inside themselves and ask, 'What would they do?' And if they said they would [take the responsibility], then I can't see them looking at me as a failure."
And even after watching Langdon travel in the lane with 5.4 seconds left and stumble down the left sideline as time ran out, coach Mike Krzyzewski knew he could not have found a better option in the game's final seconds.
"Absolutely. Positively. Absolutely," Krzyzewski said after the game, "I want Trajan Langdon to take that shot. I will walk down any road with Trajan Langdon, and I'm proud of Trajan Langdon."
Talk to anyone who's been around Langdon, and you will realize that Krzyzewski isn't the only one who has trouble finding enough positive adjectives to describe the guard. He had taken the chance to leave his Anchorage, Alaska, home far behind to come to Duke. He had played an outstanding freshman season, only to have his career nearly end after a devastating knee injury suffered the following summer.
But Langdon sat through his trying redshirt season, when all he could do was watch his team struggle through another disappointing year. He quietly rehabilitated his injured knee and exploded back onto the scene the next year, earning All-ACC honors by leading his team in scoring. That season, Langdon ended Duke's seven-game losing streak against North Carolina by torching the Tar Heels for 28 points and the game-clinching three-pointer.
And during his final two years, Langdon was everything people expected him to be-steady, fierce, deadly from long distance and, at times, brilliant. Against the Tar Heels in Duke's bid for an 16-0 ACC regular season last year, he drained two pivotal three-pointers late in the game to assure Duke of the win.
Through it all, he carried himself like a model citizen and student, earning Duke's Deryl Hart Award for academic excellence twice.
"[Duke] is one of the top academic, athletic and basketball programs in the nation," Langdon said. "I wanted to be a good student at Duke and I wanted to be a good athlete-I think I've accomplished that. People can look at that and say I've epitomized the Duke student-athlete-that's a great honor for me."
Even with all the accolades, Langdon realizes the statistical column that greatness is often judged by-national championships-still reads zero. And that makes it all the more painful that his performance had been so dazzling in college basketball's ultimate game, and yet, he came up short in the end.
While Langdon still hasn't seen a tape of that game, a smile will always creep across his face when he thinks about his dance across the stage that most basketball players can only dream about.
"For your whole life, you've watched national championships and the Final Four-it's kind of surreal to be a part of one," he said. "Thinking about the game, looking back, it's almost like it's not you in the game. It's almost like somebody else, and that makes it feel really special."
And that's exactly what Langdon was-driven, intense and rock-solid.
In a word, special.