|Monday, March 10
Updated: March 22, 3:32 PM ET
ESPN.com All-Americans built Ford tough
By Andy Katz
T.J. Ford, Texas
The stats of a player of the year candidate are certainly important, but they're not everything. Numbers certainly played a role, but weren't the determining factor in deciding ESPN.com's Player of the Year.
Just ask the leading candidates.
"I would look at (his) importance to their team, the leadership ability," Boston College senior guard Troy Bell said.
"Yeah, I'd look for a leader, someone who could also defend, score and make everyone around him better," Oklahoma senior guard Hollis Price said.
"You want a guy who has courage, so that the guys who are following you know you won't back down," Wake Forest senior forward Josh Howard said. "You want a guy who is determined, who has leadership, who can score and defend."
The guy you want is Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford.
"I love T.J. ... that's the guy," Price said.
ESPN.com couldn't agree more, which is why Ford emerged from a crowded group as The One.
Arguments will be made for Bell, Price, Howard, Xavier's David West, Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony or even Kansas' Nick Collison. The race for national player of the year was the closest in recent memory, and will likely mean a number of split votes for various awards.
Ford certainly isn't the only one who fits our criteria this season. Heck, Ford didn't even win the media or coaches award in the Big 12. Price got the media vote, Collison the coaches.
But ESPN.com's choice for national player of the year goes to Ford.
"Ford is real quick, maybe not the best shooter ... but somehow he gets it done," Bell said. "He's a good penetrator, plays good defense and is a lot more athletic than most little guys because I've see him throw it down a few times. I don't have a lot of respect for someone who can't score a lot, but T.J. can get it done. He scores a little bit and I respect him for that.''
"He's obsessed with winning, winning every game, winning the national championship," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He wants to win so bad, to win it all. That's the most important thing to him. That's what he's about."
Ford has made Texas what it has become over the past two seasons -- a national title contender. Without him, the Longhorns aren't nearly as good, maybe not even among the top four teams in the Big 12, let alone among the top four teams in the country.
This 5-foot-10 dynamo is that important to the Longhorns. Texas has a shot to win the national title because of his ability to set a game's tone, dominate on the offensive end with both his creativity that results in easy shots for everyone else, as well as himself.
Forget about being just a sophomore. Ford can carry the Longhorns to the title -- this year.
"Everybody talks about experience. But if you ask any coach in the country to pick experience or talent, they'll take talent," Barnes said. "There's no question that experience is important, but he's averaged 35 minutes a game over his career. He's a quick learner and seldom makes the same mistakes twice."
Ford, never shy about being the Big Man on Campus every time Texas takes to the court, understands the demands placed on him since arriving in Austin.
"For us to win, yes I do have to play well," Ford said. "My teammates know that. I've got to keep it all organized. It's like the quarterback in football. I've got to be the communicator."
Guards win championships in today's college basketball, and the Longhorns are never out of a game with Ford on the court.
"My job when I came here was to make everyone better," Ford said. "My job is to get everyone in the right spots and get them to feel comfortable. My attitude is to be the best on the court. I just want to outwork my teammates and that mindset carries over to my teammates."
"I'm not sure there is better choice than T.J. Ford for national player of the year," Barnes said. "Just think about the way he controls the game. It's impressive. He can beat you in different ways.
"The confidence that he plays with is a major factor on our team. When his teammates look at him it makes them feel like they've got a chance even if we're down 15, we're never out of it because they know he's such a fierce competitor."
Ford may only have two seasons of college ball under his belt, but is likely to leave for the NBA just like the above mentioned seniors -- not to mention the one junior (Wade) and freshman (Anthony). And regardless of where he lands, he won't lose his best attribute, his burning desire to win.
And that's why Ford has to be involved in every play on the court. He doesn't disappear. He's always around the ball, making plays, ensuring that Texas is in position to win.
That's why he's ESPN.com's choice as the one player among this mix deemed the most irreplaceable, which makes him the best in 2003.