Texas expects freshman Ford to make big difference

Sunday, November 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ T.J. Ford is the biggest recruit to hit the Texas basketball court in a long time, maybe ever. And the Longhorns expect their freshman point guard to be fabulous.

Ford was a high school all-American who was on just about everybody's short list as one of the top players in the country.

The Houston native chose to stay close to home to play for Texas, where coach Rick Barnes has built a Big 12 power in his first three years in Austin. He'll play his home games on a court where he won two high school state championships.

``I'm not putting any pressure on myself by being here,'' said Ford said. ``Basketball's what I do for fun and I just want to make it fun for everyone else.''

Ford has already made life easier for Barnes, who's always enjoyed having strong big men at Texas but ached for a true point guard to run the offense. He believes he's found one in Ford.

Barnes had to use Darren Kelly at the point a lot last year, knowing that Kelly was his best scoring threat. Ford, who has shown a deft shooting touch with good range in practice, will be counted on not only to pass, but to score when he can.

Couple Ford with senior defensive specialist Fredie Williams and Texas should have its guard problems solved.

``A year ago at this time, we didn't know who was going to be our point guard,'' Barnes said. ``Fredie's done a good job teaching T.J.''

The only problem may be getting them to shoot the ball.

``We have to do a better job of driving the ball and attacking the defense,'' than last year, Barnes said. ``They can shoot, but both would prefer to give the ball up, sometimes to a fault.''

Spreading around the scoring will be important. Kelly and swingman Maurice Evans, last season's top scorers, are gone from a team that went 25-9, one win shy of the school record, and finished second in the Big 12 before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Evans, who transferred to Texas from Wichita State, surprised Barnes when he declared for the NBA draft after just one season with the Longhorns only to go undrafted.

That left forward Chris Owens as the Longhorns' top scoring threat. The muscular senior averaged 14.4 points last season. He was a standout defensively as well with a team record 92 blocks.

Owens will be expected to provide the senior leadership while Ford runs the floor. Even he acknowledges that Ford may make the biggest difference for Texas this year and is excited about having a back court that will look to get him the ball.

``T.J. is definitely a playmaker,'' Owens said. ``He will be a leader on our team.''

Texas also is counting on the Frank Erwin Center being a particularly tough arena for opponents, after Texas officials reconfigured seating to get the fans closer to the floor and provide more student tickets.

The new seats put fans at courtside and tunnels behind the baskets have been removed, which will keep the sound of cheering fans reverberating around the court.

``This is what the players want,'' Barnes said. ``I think this is the kind of atmosphere we need.''