Outgoing Coach Recalls Glory with Ford
By Peter Sblendorio
For Reporting Texas
Rick Barnes wanted to remember the good times.
It was March 29, just a few hours after the University of Texas fired Barnes as head men’s basketball coach. Barnes, the coach for 17 seasons, sat at the podium at his farewell press conference and thought about a memorable game in 2001 against Stanford.
Barnes smiled. That was the morning he learned what he had in T.J. Ford.
“I’ll never forget. We’re playing in Chicago,” Barnes began. “They’re getting us pretty good. I’m trying to figure out something, and this little guy comes over to me. He said, ‘Do you mind if I take this game over?’”
Ford listened from the back of the press conference. He remembered it, too. The Longhorns jumped to a 29-15 lead at the United Center, but the ninth-ranked Cardinal answered with a 27-8 run. By the 16:07 mark in the second half, Stanford led by six.
“Things weren’t going right,” Ford said in a recent interview.
It was Ford’s fourth collegiate start. The 18-year-old point guard from Houston, a McDonald’s All-American, hadn’t won a game yet with Texas. The Longhorns were 1-3, but he missed the lone win with a sprained left ankle.
Ford had earned the respect of the Texas players. He arrived early in Austin and spent the summer playing pickup with his teammates.
“He came in as a leader,” said Scott McConnell, who handles media relations for the team. “Some guys just have a leading quality to them, and he did that (from) day one.”
With a tick under eight minutes to go against Stanford, Ford found sophomore guard Royal Ivey for a jumper. Less than a minute later, Ford grabbed a rebound and assisted Ivey again for a layup. Then, with 3:48 to go and the game tied 59-59, Ford set up Ivey for another jumper to put Texas ahead by two.
“I just got aggressive and tried to make plays for everyone,” Ford said.
Texas won in overtime, 83-75.
Ford finished the game with eight points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in 44 minutes. He backed up his bold claim with the best performance of his young career.
He played two seasons at Texas. He won the Naismith and Wooden college player of the year awards as a sophomore in 2002-03, when he led the Longhorns to their first Final Four in 56 years.
He called the Stanford game a “defining moment” in his relationship with Barnes.
“I think that moment allowed him to trust me,” Ford said.
Said Barnes: “He taught me right there, ‘Coach, you may think you’re important. But I got this.’ ”
And he did.