On a Monday night in late November at the Sylacauga gym against Childersburg, Ford, still just a freshman, proceeded to return to the court and led all scorers in the fourth quarter with nine points. He hit a 3-pointer with 3:22 left in the game to tie the score, 46-46. Childersburg won the game by finishing on an 8-0 run, 54-46. Ford finished with a game-high 19 points.
“We came up short a few games, but it’s been fun playing with my teammates,” Ford said. “We want to go out every game and play as hard as we can and have fun. If that ends up with us coming up short, as long as we know we gave it our all, it doesn’t matter.”
While extremely under the weather that night, Ford played through it because of his loyalty to his teammates.
“When I was sick that night, it motivated me to play harder because I wanted to do better,” he said. “Me being sick, I couldn’t just quit and let my teammates down. I had to go out there and fight and play for my teammates because they’re always there for me.”
To hear Ford tell it, he has defeated the odds in many regards.
“I developed asthma when I was maybe three or four weeks old,” he said. “When I came out, the doctor said I would probably only live until I was five. As I grew older, I kind of grew out of it. Wanting to build my wind motivated me. Playing sports and stuff, I always had to keep my inhaler; but it motivated me more to be a better person and to play better because it held me back so much.”
It is likely that same motivation that helped Ford have one of his best games of the season despite being severely ill.
Comer head coach Carson Grier said it isn’t that simple; Ford’s motivation has to be traced further back to the hard work Ford put in during the offseason.
“He went from about 127 pounds to about 170 and he worked his tail off,” Grier said. “He went from benching 125 to benching over 200; he just went to war in the weight room. He understood there were some things that had to be done. There’s more to the game than just playing the game. You’ve got to do the offseason work and the time in the gym and the time in the weight room. That’s where he grew up and that’s where he became a better player is the time he puts in off the court, the time he puts into conditioning and lifting. That, I believe, is what gave him the ability to play when he was sick was the offseason work because of the fact that, even though his lungs were struggling that night because he was sick and his asthma was bothering him due to having congestion, the physical condition his body was in, as compared to last year when he weighed 127 pounds and didn’t put that offseason work in, made a difference. His body was a lot more physically fit, a lot stronger, and had the ability to function at a higher level, even though he was struggling to breathe.”
Ford started playing for the varsity team as a B team promotion at the end of his seventh grade season. His first full season was last year, and after the season, he decided to try to improve by attending Grier’s series of grueling workouts and weight room sessions.
“I knew after last year that I wasn’t where I needed to be and I knew that I needed to get better,” Ford said. “I just didn’t know quite how to do it at the time. Coach Grier stopped me one day and told me that he was going to open up the weight room a few days out of the week. I told him I’d come. We had a few rough days in there. I went home with a few sore legs, but it was for the better.”
A 2009 CDC survey estimated Ford is just one 25 million people in America with asthma. Dennis Rodman is probably the most well-known NBA player with asthma. The chronic condition never seemed to slow the 2011 Hall-of-Fame inductee down, as he retired with the highest career rebounding average in NBA history and won five NBA championships.
Grier can relate to Ford at least in the sense of having a loved one with asthma.
“I can actually kind of keep up with what’s going on because my wife has severe asthma and hers is scent-related,” Grier said. “It makes it very interesting keeping the gates because all these people come in with different types of perfumes and colognes and different smells and here she is a person who has scent-related asthma. Houston knows—there are not many places she’s not at. She’s always at that gate; she’s always got my back. God blessed me with a perfect wife for what I do. She always tells me ‘Whatever you want to do, I’ve got it, I’m with you 100 percent.’ I’m thankful for that, so I also treat her the same way.”
Additionally, Ford’s teammate Darius Hale has asthma.
Hale and Ford comprise Comer’s starting backcourt and are the team’s two leading scorers. Ford leads the team, averaging roughly 17 points per game. He also averages about six rebounds per game and four assists per game.
“This season I feel like the team chemistry is better,” Ford said. “We’re learning how to play together and playing as a team. I also feel like the game is coming to me more. I felt like last year I was trying to force too much and I was trying to do too much. Now, it seems like it’s just coming to me and everything is just falling in place.”
It’s important to note that Ford insists, still being a freshman, his game still needs further development if he wants to accomplish his long-term goal of playing basketball at the next level. At present, Ford is working on his mid-range game, which he says isn’t where he wants it to be yet.
His coach reminds him that while Ford should be proud of the strides taken to improve both on and off the court, he has to maintain his focus and work ethic to fulfill his potential.
“If he’ll do the work, like he did the last offseason when it comes to the next offseason, it’s going to be amazing where he can go,” Grier said. “As Trent Richardson said, ‘That hill was long and that hill was hard, but the end result was worth it.’ I think that’s what he understands: he understands the mountain he’s got to climb, but the top of the mountain is worth getting there, no matter how hard you’ve got to work to get there. There’s work to be done.”