Ford: 'I want to be the best'

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:30 PM ET

The day Bryan Colangelo traded Charlie Villanueva to Milwaukee for him, many Raptors fans lamented giving up a big for a small.

Point guard T.J. Ford arrived on the Raptors' scene last season, displaying the unique speed and skill set with which he plays the game, but still, you lamented the inconsistent shot.

And when Jose Calderon -- a standout point guard in his own right -- suddenly became the flavour of the day and a ground-swell began to start the young Spaniard, the trade with the Bucks was questioned further.

But at no time then or since has Colangelo, head coach Sam Mitchell or anyone else on the coaching staff wavered. T.J. Ford was brought here to be the Raptors' starting point guard. That is what he is today and that is what he will be in the future.

IGNORED SLIGHTS

Through it all, Ford has heard the slights and the comparisons and he has ignored them because there is only one thing that drives him on a basketball court -- and that is getting better.

In his final two seasons at Willowridge High School in Texas, Ford was a member of a team that went 75-1.

"We were the stuff," he says. "We had people waiting outside the gym to watch us play because they couldn't get in. We were like rock stars, put it that way."

But, still Ford was not satisfied with his play.

He graduated and signed on at the University of Texas, guiding the Longhorns to a 48-19 record during his time there and leading them, in 2003, to their first Final Four appearance since 1947. He also was a consensus all-American as a sophomore and won two of the five major college basketball player-of-the-year honours -- the Naismith and Wooden Awards.

Still, he wanted to get better.

Heading into his fifth year in the NBA -- one of those seasons a complete write-off following neck surgery -- Ford remains on task.

"I want to get better," Ford says. "I want to be the best. I'm just trying to put all the pieces together to be considered that."

Earlier this fall, Ford came out and publicly stated his desire and intention to be an all-star this season. In a conference that includes Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade at the same position, that's a lofty goal. Ford, however, believes it is reachable.

"I just feel confident it's a good opportunity for me," Ford said. "I believe, based on the season I had last year and the improvement I made, I feel I'm much better physically and mentally this year. I just want to continue to take my game to the next level."

Through last season, Ford's only real sounding board on the team was veteran point guard Derrick Martin.

But this season, with Jim Todd moving back to Milwaukee, a spot on the coaching staff opened up and Mike Evans, a nine-year NBA veteran -- all of it at the point -- was moved in from the scouting department where he had been for three seasons.

"He helps me a lot because he sees a lot of the things I see from the point guard point of view," Ford says. "Sometimes the coaches may not always understand the point guard mentality, but he does."

There is not a doubt in Evans' mind, having seen what Ford can do, that he has a chance to be among the top three point guards in the game today.

"As long as he continues to work hard and study the past and the great point guards, I don't see why not," Evans says.

Ford has always considered himself a pass-first point guard, but says the two additions to the starting lineup this year -- Andrea Bargnani at centre and Jason Kapono at small forward -- will probably see his game change.

"I now have to pick my spots a little better," he says. "Their ability to shoot the ball is going to create more opportunities for me to get to the hole and get easy baskets."

But whether Ford is more scorer now, or passer, will be dictated by that particular night's opponent.

GAMES DICTATES

"The game always dictates how much I shoot," he says. "If I feel it's necessary for me to put up a lot of shots, then that's something I'll do. If not, I can live with shooting four, five, six shots a game, maybe even two if (Bargnani and Kapono) are really on fire. To me, that's just part of my job."

Evans is convinced that once Ford makes that 16-foot jump shot an automatic, his game will take off.

"Teams really look to keep him out of the paint if they can, and on the perimeter shooting that shot," Evans says. "Once he proves he can consistently make that shot, that's when his game is really going to blossom."

Mitchell, meanwhile, says he was already seeing, during the pre-season games, the type of improvements Ford predicted for himself.

He called the play of both of his point guards in the final three games of the pre-season schedule "flawless". High praise indeed from a coach who rarely doles out such compliments.

Ford, however, says one area he has identified that he can improve on is playing hard consistently. By that, he means not allowing the defence to relax any time he is in possession of the ball.

"I've got to put them on their heels every time down the court," Ford said.

And once he is doing that, he'll come up with something else to improve on. For Ford, there's always going to be some way to get better.


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