Ford Tough: T.J. Steers the Horns
by Bill Thayer
Baseball was locked in a debate once the season ended on the criteria for MVP, should it go to the best player or the best player on the best team? I’ll end all arguments for college basketball right here and now: T.J Ford is the best player in college basketball and the most valuable player in college basketball. On top of that, Ford is the main reason Texas will win the national title this year.
Ford’s ability as a pass-first point guard was well documented last year as Ford became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists and joined Jason Kidd as the only players to do it before their junior seasons. Much like Kidd, Ford’s game is continuing to develop. Ford spent his summer improving his scoring skills, as he showed in the Longhorns season opening win against Georgia, leading all scorers, as well as tying his career-high, with 22 points.
What is overlooked when talking about Ford is his toughness. He’s vocal on the court and his wiry frame makes him look like the typical end-to-end jet (which he is). Ford has never been one to avoid mixing it up with the big boys, as evidenced by an 11 rebound effort last year against Stanford.
I don’t like to throw comparisons around freely, but watching Ford reminds me of another undersized point guard who knew how to win: Isaiah Thomas. There are certain instincts Ford shows in finding his teammates and creating open shots for them that Thomas flashed early in his career. Thomas developed his scoring as well and, like Ford, would hit the glass when needed.
Everybody already knows Ford’s resume, leading Willowridge High School (along with current Duke guard Daniel Ewing and Oklahoma State’s Ivan McFarlin) to a 73-1 record over his last three years. But how Ford does it is by making others better. Late in the win over Georgia, Bulldogs coach Jim Harrick was called for a technical foul. Texas coach Rick Barnes told Ford to take the free throw and ice the game. With the Longhorns up four, Ford nodded then told Brandon Mouton to take it.
“I ask him what he was doing,” Barnes said. “He said, ‘I wanted Brnadon to hit and get his confidence up. It might help us down the line.”
Mouton made the free throw and Texas held on. Yet another assist for the best in the game.
While T.J. Ford may be the best player in the college game, I think Marquette’s Dwyane Wade is making his case for most exciting. I know some pro scouts are drooling over the 6-5 junior guard, but I think he has some aspects of his game to work on before he’s ready for the league. Wade still needs to extend his shooting range and learn to free himself up before he’s ready to move to the next level. That being said, there are very few players in college who are as good at getting to the hoop as he is. He redefines the word explosive.
The NCAA doesn’t seem to care about the P.R. nightmare its providing for itself right now with the suspension of Billy Edelin and held up case of Mario Austin. While I like the idea of upholding some of its rules there are bigger issues to be looked at before worrying about if Edelin played in a rec league or not. Like the essential squashing of SAT scores from minimal requirements.
The biggest injury of the season may have occurred at NC State, where forward Ilian Evtimov was lost for the season with a torn ACL just minutes into an exhibition game. The sophomore forward was just one of the many versatile pieces for the Wolfpack. He looked like he was going to, along with Marcus Melvin, help take some of the scoring pressure off of Julius Hodge. Now, as he is out for the year, the Pack may have slipped back into the race for the ACC, where as many as seven chances have a legit shot at the title.
With all the talk of the freshmen around the nation, the hot start by Notre Dame has gone virtually unnoticed. In the first two games of the year, wins against Belmont and IUPUI, the Irish set and then broke, the school record for blocks. Mike Bray continues to develop that program. Freshman Torin Francis and sophomore Jordan Cornette have filled the role left by Ryan Humphrey and Maryland transfer Dan Miller adds another scoring option. If Chris Thomas plays as well as he did early in conference play last year, they should give Pittsburgh a run in the Big East West.
Creighton forward Kyle Korver was named Missouri Valley Conference player of the week for the week ending Nov. 17. That should come as no surprise considering Creighton was the only team in conference to play a regular season game that week.
North Carolina should not be patting themselves on the backs for their second round “win” over Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights gave the game away, blowing an 11 point lead in the final 7 minutes. Rutgers rushed many shots and never got back defensively. Not to be totally negative, it seemed like the Tar Heel faithful helped will their team to that win as the Dean Dome was LOUD.
After watching Villanova lose to Marquette I kept thinking back to two years ago when Seton Hall could not get the right chemistry between their freshmen and veterans. With Gary Buchanan out, Derrick Snowden looked uncomfortable with the newcomers and was seen pouting on the bench more than once. Part of it may be due to the little amount of practice time before the first game, but if the Wildcats can’t gel it will be a long year for Jay Wright.