Every year, thousands of kids lace up their shoes and step on a court to play an AAU basketball game for the first time.
T.J. Ford did the same 26 years ago, and between then and now, he became the fourth athlete to ever have a jersey retired by the University of Texas, earned All-American honors along with just about every prestigious college basketball award in existence, and played eight seasons in the NBA.
Now, Ford is focused on helping kids achieve success on the court and in life through his academy, T.J. Ford Basketball.
“We’re trying to build good character kids,” he said. “More than anything, the whole program is a mentorship. Mentorship and leadership. That’s what we’re trying to teach every kid. It doesn’t matter about your talent level. If you’re willing to go through the process and training and getting better, we’re going to work with you because it’s about building your confidence.”
Ford’s staff is filled with coaches, trainers and mentors who have been involved with the game at every level. They host camps, clinics and coaching seminars aimed at developing the skills of everyone involved. But turning kids into NBA players, Ford said, is not the main goal of his program.
“I think I would have more satisfaction if we have some kids that come out with a master’s degree or a Ph.D., become doctors, become lawyers, go into the educational field, or they could become a truck driver – it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just as long as we help the kids in some type of way, they can come back and feel good about it. Basketball is the smallest component. The biggest component is just teaching them how to be prepared for life, and how to deal with adversity.”
The program, Ford said, builds character through the rigorous training and extreme workouts the kids endure. It is meant for the players to separate themselves, to reveal who is willing to go through whatever it takes to achieve their goals versus who wants to quit and go home.
“We’re just trying to get kids to work extremely hard,” Ford said. “If they get accustomed to working extremely hard, I think you’re building character. I think you’re teaching valuable lessons of what work would be like if sports doesn’t work out. These are the same tools, these are the same things that you’re going to have to do with any other job. In order to be good, you have to work hard, you have to be dedicated, and you have to challenge yourself to continue to improve. That’s what we’re trying to build.”
The problem with many, Ford said, is that the sacrifices it takes to reach success are commonly underestimated.
“I think everybody looks at the end result of somebody having success, and they never look deep down to see what was the struggle, how long it took them to get there, what sacrifices did they have to make,” he said. “These are the conversations that we’re having with kids, that we’re having with parents as well – the sacrifices you have to make.”
Ford’s own personal goals involve helping kids on a grander scale. Right now, his academy is based out of Houston, but he said he hopes to expand his reach throughout the state and ultimately become the premier program in the nation when it comes to improving the lives of kids after basketball.
“My goal is to put more kids in college than anybody in the country,” he said. “And with that, hopefully we have more successful people coming out of our program than anybody in the country. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Basketball is the perfect means to achieve his aspirations of uplifting the youth. The game itself presents opportunities not available in other fields, and above all, creates memories that last a lifetime.
“I’ve been all over the world and seen a lot of great guys, a lot of good talent,” he said. “Basketball allows you to meet a lot of great people. It allows you to see the world. It allows you to try new things, and it gives you experiences that you will forever hold within your heart, for an eternity.”
T.J. will be hosting a skills camp and coaching seminar sponsored by Texas Top 100 on Saturday, October 24th from 9am-12pm at Round Rock Sports Center. The event is free to attend, open to middle school and high school boys. Register by emailing Zach DiSchiano at firstname.lastname@example.org.