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Last weekend a number of NBA players gathered in Dallas, Texas to take part in adidas Nations, a program that takes NBA players and coaches to foreign countries to mentor aspiring athletes and then brings some of those athletes back to America to take part in a special camp. Among the players who participated this summer was Indiana point guard TJ Ford, who told us why he loves being a part of adidas Nations.
"It just gives us an opportunity to help these kids and give them advice from the highest level, be it a professional athlete or one of the NBA we have on staff," says Ford. "We're teaching these kids what it is to be in the NBA and what it takes to be a good player and to be one of the best in the world. By us just being here, these kids have seen us on TV and now they get to meet us in person, hopefully a few of these kids can make it to the NBA and then come back and do the same thing with adidas Nations help even more kids."
Ford spent two seasons playing with the Toronto , so he has some experience with playing in another country. That's nothing compared to what guys like Josh Childress and Earl Boykins will experience as they make the move to Europe.
"I think it's a good thing from a professional standpoint and also from a business standpoint," says Ford of this new phase of the globalization of basketball. "It's given us an opportunity to tap into both markets. We can have the opportunity to play in the Euroleague or the option to play in the NBA. Josh Childress taking the deal he did, which was for a lot of money, opens the door for a lot of these other guys to go get nice contracts this year and also in the future."
Ford, though, has his work cut out for him with his new team. He was traded to the Indiana Pacers in a blockbuster deal that sent Jermaine O'Neal to the Toronto Raptors, signaling an almost clean sweep of the old guard in Indiana. The franchise is trying to sweep away the clouded memory of the infamous brawl, and the trade helps both the Pacers and O'Neal finally move on from that unfortunate event. Ford is looking forward to what promises to be a big challenge for this new Pacers team.
"I think this will be the first time in my career, since I've been in the NBA, where I'll be able to lead more by example and have the opportunity to teach guys, to be more vocal. I'll be able to build confidence in my teammates, and knowing that we don't have any superstar players, no All-Stars, you don't have to play second fiddle to anybody. The ball will be in my hands where I can make plays for my teammates and I think it will be a good opportunity for me and also for our team. I understand a lot of people will not pick us to make the playoffs, but since I've been in the NBA it's been like that every season. I'm used to it, I know what it takes, and I can't wait to shock a lot of people this season."
Ford and the Pacers have much to prove, as most NBA analysts have written off the Pacers before a single game is played. For Ford, this season will be about proving he's healthy again. He recovered from a neck injury that was supposed to end his NBA career, and though he missed the entire 2004-05 season he appeared in 70+ games over the next two and improved markedly each season. He was beset by injuries again last year, but wants Pacers fans to know he's healthy and ready to help the Pacers prove they can be a competitive team . . .maybe even a playoff team.
"I'm definitely healthy. Each year I've tried to strengthen myself and continue to work my body, improve my body, to help me with my conditioning. This is a good opportunity for me; I'm happy with the trade. I'm going to go and play hard, give them everything I've got, and hopefully we can change the environment, change the feel of Indiana and get people back to loving Indiana basketball."
While Ford's heart will be with the Pacers, he will have an eye on the Charlotte Bobcats, as well. As passionate as he is about his NBA career, he is also a true enthusiast and devotee of his alma mater - the University of Texas. Ford goes out of his way to help build the basketball program there and to be a mentor to the young men who are developing their basketball skills there. This year a very special friend of Ford's will be playing his rookie season as a Bobcat: point guard DJ Augustin.
"Great kid, first off. He's a great kid," beams Ford. "His parents did a good job raising him - he has great morals and great values, number one. Number two, I was fortunate to have a kid in DJ who I was able to take under my wing and I was able to mentor him throughout college and continue to do the same things with the things I've been through and teach him what life is like in the NBA. I think he could have gotten more publicity than he did; people don't really realize the accomplishments he made at UT. He was overlooked with Kevin Durant having a sensational season as a freshman, but he actually took his team further without Kevin Durant, which a lot of people don't take notice of. He has great leadership skills and he's definitely going to make that team better."
And Ford should know - few players take their responsibilities as role models more seriously. Ford is an outstanding ambassador, whether it's to the global community, to UT, or to his new teammates in Indiana.