One of the more decorated basketball players in Texas Longhorns history hopes to change lives with the game that changed his.
T.J. Ford, a crafty passer who played eight seasons in the NBA after being named college basketball’s national player of the year in 2003, opened a gym in the Houston suburb of Fresno in 2021 to work with young basketball players. The T.J. Ford Academy offers training for players at all levels—professional, college, high school and younger. The facility includes a full court with nine goals, on-the-floor training equipment and a room for strength and conditioning.
“For me, it is just living out my dream of what I envisioned for myself as a kid,” Ford says. “Since the day I retired, I was always looking to get involved with youth sports to build facilities and provide opportunities for kids here in the Houston area.”
Ford, 38, spent his professional career playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. He retired in 2012. In Texas, he is more known for his legendary career at the University of Texas, where he led the nation in assists as a freshman, was a consensus All-American and took the Longhorns to their most recent Final Four appearance, in 2003.
Throughout his playing career, the point guard was known for his speed, basketball IQ and love of the game. Now he’s becoming known for paving the way for the next potential Texas greats.
John Eurey, one of Ford’s high school coaches, says it’s a good fit for Ford.
“Looking back at me coaching him, T.J. was a good kid and what he is doing does not surprise me because he loved the game of basketball,” Eurey says. “He is training a lot of kids there.”
That includes one of the top prospects in the country. Chris Johnson, a 6-foot-5-inch guard from Missouri City, has been training with Ford since ninth grade. Since then, Johnson has committed to the University of Kansas over offers from many other big-name schools, including Kentucky, Texas A&M and UT.
“Just working and being with T.J. all the time translates to how I play on the court,” Johnson says. “I see things as similar as he does, and it helps me in each game I play.”
But Ford’s gym is not just for elite recruits.
“I am trying to give kids hope and an opportunity, and it is not about me working with the best kids,” Ford says. “If the kid is talented enough to where schools want him, then that is great. But we have a system that works for all kids.”
Andrew Deutser is one of Ford’s players who was underrecruited in high school. During his high school career at the Kinkaid School in Houston, Deutser followed somewhat in Ford’s footsteps. In fall 2019, Deutser was given the chance to walk on to the Longhorns team. He credits one man for his successes in the game.
“T.J. was one of the first people to truly believe in my talent in high school,” Deutser says. “He really improved who I was on the court and taught me to read the game. I definitely was prepared for my career at Texas because of him.”
Ford’s relationship with his players goes beyond basketball. He is just as tuned in with how his kids progress in life as much as what they do on the hardwood.
“He is like a second father to me,” Johnson says. “He disciplines me and is there for me whenever I need him. It is all in good nature, and I love him for it.”
Ford sees his work with youths as paying forward the positive impact that so many had on his career.
“Multiple people played this type of role. It takes a big village,” Ford says. “When I was participating in youth sports from a young age, I was around some successful Black men. I feel like a lot of guys did not get that type of value of seeing successful Black men being able to provide for their families in different ways. That was on my mind.”
Ford now plays the role of the Black mentor for others, including his son T.J. Ford Jr., who wants to continue the family legacy in the sport.
A senior at Ridge Point High School in Missouri City, Ford Jr. plays the same position his father did, and their close relationship through basketball is something the elder Ford is extremely proud of.
“Basketball has allowed me to have an amazing bond with my son,” Ford says. “I get to spend a lot of time with my son, and we get to be in the gym and have that father-son and friend relationship.”
The family lines do not end there. Ford, his brother Tim and their father, Leo, make up the “three-headed monster” that backs the T.J. Ford Academy. Each of them is dedicated to helping players achieve their goals.
“It is just how it was when I grew up because I am with my dad and my brother all the time talking basketball,” Ford says. “Anytime you can see your parents or your family every day, that is the ultimate goal. So we are in the gym every day and are passionate enough to bring the energy to get the best out of kids.”
Before opening the gym, Ford worked with several young players who’ve had success at all levels of the sport. Taz Sherman of Missouri City led West Virginia University in scoring last season. Danuel House is another Missouri City product who trains with Ford and plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Ford hopes to see his academy thrive for years to come.
“I want to just keep doing the right thing by being around good people and helping them,” Ford says. “I want to have a branch of trees and limbs all over this world that shows that I have helped a lot of people have success.”