Ford's focus a healthy return

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:50 PM ET

MIAMI -- It's the end of practice on Super Bowl Sunday at American Airlines Arena. Some of the Raptors are at one end of the court getting in some extra shooting. Others, such as Carlos Delfino, run sprints. Others still are watching the action at the other end of the gym where the real show is going on.

There, Juan Dixon, Darrick Martin and T.J. Ford go one-on-one with former NBA coach John Lucas providing encouragement.

Ford is the focus. It's his first day of practice with the team since Al Horford sent him crashing to the floor in Atlanta last Dec. 11.

SCULPTED

It's a more physically sculpted Ford that returns. He looks thicker through the shoulders and neck.

Other than that, he looks like the same old T.J. Ford -- driving to the basket one moment, in Dixon's face the next, barely giving him room to breathe, let alone shoot.

"No fear," Lucas said following the workout. "We worked in reverse. We worked on falling down and learning how to recover as he got healthy. We worked on that first. Today when he practised, he was not afraid of anything."

Ford has been going through daily workouts in his hometown of Houston under the watchful eye of Lucas since Jan. 10, when he got the green light to begin his rehab after a visit to the Cleveland Clinic.

Lucas, who oversaw Ford's return from neck surgery in 2004 that cost him the entire 2004-05 season and the final 24 games of the 2003-04 season, said it was all about convincing Ford to start over. That's something Lucas, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 22 years, does every day of his life.

Lucas believes Ford let his off-court work slip and that left him vulnerable to the kind of injury he suffered.

"I think he forgot to do the maintenance work to keep his body up," Lucas said. "He looked more like one of those rappers, Snoop Dog. His muscle tone had left because he hadn't done the work."

Lucas' workouts are legendary for the demands they put on the body and they were exactly what Ford needed.

"I feel great," Ford said. "That was perfect for me going home and getting myself right. I'm in game shape but I still have to continue to build on what I've done. I had to get my body back right. My whole body just shut down. You have to retrain your muscles, get them to refire."

Ford said he is now healthy and says he will be happiest when the day arrives that his health is no longer the first question he hears.

"It's a matter of trusting yourself and protecting yourself mentally," he said of reclaiming his spot in the game. "I think that was a freak incident. I've taken some pretty bad hits and walked away from them. It can't be on my mind for me to go forward."

RETIREMENT THOUGHTS

Ford said the moment the injury happened that night in Atlanta, the second time in his NBA career he was carried off the floor on a backboard, the notion of retiring crossed his mind.

"Yeah, you're sitting there lying on the ground, that crosses your mind once," he said. "I checked out of the hospital the next day and that kind of cleared my mind. But everything goes though your mind. You're not sure, you don't know what's really going on with your body. You don't really know your health at that time."

There are no uncertainties for T.J. Ford today. His mind is clear. His health is not in question. He can resume playing the game he loves to play.

"I'm feeling good," Ford said. "I'm not injured. I don't think anyone has to worry about that and just treat me like a healthy player."


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