T.J. Ford

T.J. Ford, who played for Texas for two seasons, continues to make an impact by coaching an AAU team in Houston.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Stephen Durda | Daily Texan Staff

Last Monday, the Longhorns were 9-3 and one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 title race. But, after consecutive road losses to Iowa State and Kansas — two teams Texas defeated in Austin earlier this season — Texas now trails the Jayhawks by three games with only four games remaining. While they have exceeded expectations, these Longhorns are not yet at the level of Rick Barnes’ prolific teams of years past.

From 2002-2008, Texas made it to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight three times. Although each of those teams had different playing styles, they all possessed two characteristics: veteran leadership and big-time talent, traits the current Longhorns lack.

Texas’ main troubles lie on the offensive end, where freshman guard Isaiah Taylor is the only player averaging more than three assists per game. The Longhorns sit at 217th and 239th nationally in assists and field goal percentage, respectively — a clear indicator that they don’t have an elite offensive playmaker. This fact was painstakingly clear in Saturday’s 85-54 shellacking in Kansas, which dropped Texas to 20-7.

Texas’ lack of offensive power starkly contrasts that of the 2002 team, which, fueled by T.J. Ford’s 15 points and 7.7 assists per game and James Thomas’ nightly double-doubles, was 22-5. With Ford at its helm, the team reached the Final Four before falling to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse, the eventual champions.

This trend continues with the ‘05-‘06 Longhorns, which stood at 23-4 overall and 11-2 in conference play after 27 games. P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge were unstoppable that year, each averaging more than 15 points and nine rebounds per game while anchoring a stifling defense that allowed only 60 points per game — a far cry from the defensive stats of the current Longhorns, who yield 71 per outing. Powered by this dynamic duo, they fell to Glen “Big Baby” Davis and LSU in the Elite Eight.

Texas’ most recent deep run in the NCAA tournament was in 2008, when D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams each averaged more than 16 points per game. Fueled by superb outside shooting, they sat at 23-4 with a 10-2 mark in the Big 12 before eventually losing to Derrick Rose and the Memphis Tigers in the Elite Eight.

To put it simply, this year’s Longhorns lack the explosiveness, experience and star power that propelled past Texas teams to postseason success. That being said, this is the same group everyone wrote off before the season even began. They have already made huge strides and will continue to grow. If they can build on this foundation, these players will have a chance to join the likes of Ford, Aldridge and Augustin in the Texas record books.

Breaking down Kabongo’s game

Perhaps the best pure point the Longhorns have seen since T.J. Ford, freshman Myck Kabongo has a chance to completely change the style of Texas basketball if given the chance.

The Breakdown:

Kabongo’s best attribute is his explosive speed. He gets from end to end in a heartbeat and has the agility to blow by any defender. Add this to his excellent ball-handling, and you get a guy that can potentially make any opponent look stupid. Kabongo has slick handles, as he comfortably dribbles with both hands and could be described as a “ball-on-a-string” ball handler. Although he can get a little flashy with this at times, it plays to his advantage more often than not.

Floor Vision:

A player that sees the floor extremely well, Kabongo displays an innate ability to find open teammates anywhere on the court. His can penetrate into the lane past defenders to provide many opportunities to drive and dish on a consistent basis. If his teammates can take advantage of opportunities on the perimeter, Kabongo has a chance to get 10 assists a night.

Kabongo has a very high basketball IQ, playing well beyond his years. His ability to make good decisions has made him a top point guard prospect in the class of 2011. Although he is a bit more turnover-prone than some would like at this stage, he possesses the ability to make the right decisions any time he wants.

“I’m an extension of the coach,” he said. “My job as a point guard is to facilitate. I’m trying to get my teammates in spots to score and make their jobs easier.”

Lockdown:

He is an excellent on-ball defender with the ability to be a true lockdown defender if he puts his mind to it. Any basketball fan would enjoy watching him on defense, as he constantly puts himself in the right spot to disrupt the movement of the ball.

Charismatic:

It should be noted that Kabongo’s best attribute could very well be his personality. He is considered a tremendous leader, both vocally and by example. It’s almost impossible to find any film of him losing his composure, which should translate into much success at the next level.

“I’m calm, but on the courts I know the fine line between having fun and taking the game seriously, and I take the game very seriously,” he said.

Flaws:

The only true flaws that can be seen in Kabongo’s game are his inconsistent jumper and small frame. When Kabongo fills out his frame, he will be an above-average finisher as the extra strength would allow him to not shy away from contact inside and allow him to finish more on his own rather than dishing when bigger defenders step up in the lane.

Much like any novice college player, Kabongo has an inconsistent jump shot that will only get better with practice. His shot seems a bit flat, but he shows the ability to knock down shots if defenders decide to sag off of him enough.

If he adds muscle to his frame and develops a consistent jumper, he could easily turn from an average scorer to a virtually un-guardable player at the point guard position.

His ceiling:

While Kabongo’s game is very hard to compare to any current or former star point guard, his game seems most comparable to Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies — a true floor general with the quickness and intelligence to get past any defender, and a truly intelligent all-around defender, one with the ability to make any team better.

Transcendent:

Kabongo should fit in well with the scheme of defensive-minded Rick Barnes, but if Barnes is willing to let Kabongo play at his own tempo, the Texas team could quickly turn into a fast-break and attacking team that will look to score the majority of their points in transition. Much like T.J.
Ford was able to control the tempo of a game, Kabongo has the talent — and most importantly the speed — to dictate the pace of any game. If Kabongo is given the right amount of freedom, fans could witness the start of an era of Texas basketball that is more exciting than any before:
Run-and-gun offense at its finest.

“Whenever you push the ball up, it’s a great thing,” Kabongo said. “It’s to my advantage; I love playing fast.”

Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo (12) lifts a shot over a defender in a recent game. Kabongo is the latest in a long line of successful point guards to attend Texas under head coach Rick Barnes. Through six games Kabongo has averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 assists per game.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Freshman Myck Kabongo appears to be next in a long line of point guards Texas has produced in the Rick Barnes era.

The timeline begins with T.J. Ford, who played two years — the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Ford made an immediate impact in his rookie year, becoming the first freshman in NCAA history to ever lead the nation in assists, with 8.2 per game, and earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors by consensus. The following season, Ford led the Longhorns to their first Final Four appearance since 1947, was named the Naismith College Player of the Year and received the John Wooden Award.

Ford decided to forgo his junior year and enter the NBA Draft, but the era of star Longhorn point guards had just begun.

In 2006, freshman D.J. Augustin started 35 games with an average of 14.4 points and 6.7 assists per game, earning him All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Rookie honors. The following year (2007-2008), after losing Kevin Durant, Augustin had a large hand in what was one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history — a 31-7 regular season record and an Elite Eight appearance.

Augustin would also go on to win the Bob Cousy Award, which honors the best men’s college point guard in the country. Then, like Ford, he declared for the draft after his sophomore season.

Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph were the next highly-recruited point guards that Texas wooed. Bradley (2009-2010) started 34 games for the Longhorns, averaging 11.6 points per game, and Joseph (2010-2011) started 36 games, averaging 10.3 points per game. Both left after their freshman seasons: Bradley was selected by the Celtics with the No. 19 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and Joseph was chosen at No. 29 by the Spurs. While both were very productive in each of the seasons they played for Texas, it has been believed that they left before they could develop their game enough for the pros, leaving many to say that they should have stayed for another year or more.

Many have compared both Kabongo’s approach, quickness and cerebralism to Ford. Thus far, the freshman averages 9.7 points and 5.5 assists per game. If he can deliver on the expectations — he was, after all, a five-star recruit — it seems that this year’s team and the Longhorns’ point guard lineage will be in good hands. 

Printed on December 2, 2011 as: Point guard lineage continues to expand, Kabongo next in line