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One of my best memories in my 20+ years in this business was covering T.J. Ford at Willowridge High School and Texas.
Sure it was a blast to watch the Willowridge team go 75-1 with Ford, Daniel Ewing (Duke), and Kenny Taylor (Baylor & Texas). It was the greatest show on the court the city of Houston, if not the state of Texas, had seen in many years.
T.J. signing with Texas and leading the Longhorns to the Sweet 16 and then Final Four truly changed University of Texas basketball. Without T.J. Ford, there is no Daniel Gibson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin and many more. He made it cool to play hoops in Austin.
What made T.J. Ford different than many others, however, was the smile, the competitive way he played and led, and the way he won. Fans and prospects alike gravitated to Ford.
With the season opener just hours away, getting T.J.’s thoughts seemed like a no brainer.
Gerry Hamilton: Thinking back to your first game at Texas, what do you remember the most?
T.J. Ford: Think about the pressure about that first game. Being an All-American was pressure to perform right away. The Arizona team at that time was projected to be in the Final Four, possibly win the National Championship and they had multiple future NBA players. I was a little nervous until the ball was thrown up. You were waiting for that first assist and first bucket to settle in.
GH: You have watched Greg Brown play on the AAU circuit, and have been around Greg. What does he bring to Texas basketball?
Ford: Greg Brown is in a good situation. When I came in, I played with a lot of experienced players and an experienced team. Coming in to a team with good experience, Greg is in a great position. He can bring a lot of energy, because he’s an energy player.
GH: What are your expectations for Brown this season?
Ford: Texas has athleticism, but Greg Brown is a different freak of nature as an athlete. His athleticism is off the charts, but I think he brings intensity. He’s very coachable. I’ve worked with him a little in the gym, and he’s coachable. I don’t know how they are going to play him and see how he’s going to adjust to the game at the college level. He’s going to bring intensity, rebounding ability and shot blocking ability. Getting into foul trouble early taking him out of his first game is what I worry about.
GH: Like Texas fans, Ford isn’t sure what to expect from this Texas team due to COVID-19 and not being around the team and program for months.
Ford: That’s a question I can answer in two weeks after I watch some games. I haven’t seen anything because I haven’t been around the team for a while. If they play in the open court and get up and down, Texas could be one of the top teams in the country because they have experience and athleticism. If they play in the half court, it could be more of a struggle. If Texas plays more in the open court, can they maximize and do it at a pace they can play faster, and make the other team play faster than they want to. That’s the question.
GH: You mentioned coming into an experienced team, and immediately becoming the best player on a talented team. While much different because you were stepping in as the point guard and team leader, what will that process be like for Greg Brown taking minutes from returning players and trying to fit in to an experienced team?
Ford: For me, I started studying teams my junior season in high school. When I signed with Texas, I believed they (Texas players returning) could play, and I could make them better. I had a lot of that process done before I stepped on the court. Greg can bring intensity, different athleticism and rebounding and fit in well.