T.J. Ford spent only two seasons in Austin.
In that short span of time, the young point guard managed to lead Texas to a Final Four appearance while earning himself the Naismith Trophy for college player of the year.
The NBA Draft selected Ford as No. 8 overall after he spent the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons as a Longhorn. He faced high expectations, but some grisly injuries — combined with a spinal condition that made paralysis a real threat — meant ultimately, Ford could only play off and on for nine years. Still, he never lacked in heart and talent.
“His work ethic was incredible,” said Ronnie Courtney, Ford’s high school coach. “His heart is probably as large as any heart you are ever going to find, in terms of wanting to be the best at what he was doing.”
Although he retired in 2012, Ford hasn’t stayed away from basketball. Now, instead of dishing out passes, Ford dishes out advice on ways to succeed on the court and beyond.
Today, Ford runs the TJ Ford Basketball Academy and an Amateur Athletic Union Program in Houston, his hometown. Ford works alongside Courtney and other Houston area coaches to help Houston-area children improve at
basketball and, hopefully, land college scholarships. But Ford said his academy is about much more than the game.
“Basketball’s just a vehicle for us to get things that we’re trying to get across to the kids,” Ford said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to help a lot of different kids from a lot of different ethnic groups and just show them what a family environment feels like. Every kid’s home situation is different.”
Working with kids and running an AAU team was not Ford’s original plan when he first retired from the NBA.
“I was focusing more on NBA guys that I was training, that worked out with me for four to five years,” Ford said. “We had a couple high school kids that would come in and train with us and had great seasons, and it kind of just took off from there.”
Ford’s program already boasts a strong track record. and he is as good at working with seven-year-olds as he is working alongside NBA players. Twelve of his players already gone on to earn college scholarships.
Texas head coach Rick Barnes said nothing about Ford’s successes is surprising.
“He had a great knack at knowing how to … put [his teammates] in a position to be good,” Barnes said. “[T.J. was] a ‘people person,’ and he always wanted to learn.”
Soon after he retired, Ford was offered NBA coaching opportunities — but the allure of returning to basketball played at the highest level could not outweigh the thought of coaching the game at its very roots.
“I love working with kids,” Ford said. “Teaching the game is teaching the game, and I enjoy doing it with any age level.”
In addition, the love of teaching has called Ford back to the 40 Acres, where he is taking classes to complete his education degree. Ford, who hopes to complete his degree in the next year and a half, still heads back to Houston on the weekends to coach.
“This is an unbelievable place [where] I had some great experiences,” Ford said. “For me, it’s pretty fun just being back and walking the campus and actually just being a regular student.”