Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Drives Ford, the Muscle in Mercer’s Machine

MACON, Ga. – We know Mercer’s Courtney Ford as the only women’s basketball player in the A-Sun’s recent history to earn three consecutive Player of the Week awards. The senior guard recorded her second triple double of the season with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Belmont, but the A-Sun needed to know what drives the engine behind one of the league’s top seniors on the Mercer court.

When discussing Mercer women’s basketball from last season, senior Courtney Ford tended to fall behind the names of top scorers Dominique Chism and Natasha Doh. However, the 5-foot-8 guard made her mark on the stat sheet, as she stood as the top rebounder on the team with 180 (5.8 per game). Ford still flew under the radar, however, the communications major knew her chance to break out would come in the fall of 2009.

This season on the court, Ford knows how to play her game as the guard has already turned in three-consecutive Atlantic Sun Player of the Week awards. It makes her final season of ball at Mercer mean so much more knowing that this year is her last chance for a championship, and Ford’s in it for the long haul.

“I am definitely focused on a championship, I would really, really love that, because I have, after all my years of basketball I have not come out with any championship ring or anything like that. Every time, there’s always been something in the way,” Ford said. “My high school years there was this really good team that stood in our way my senior year, we couldn’t get around them. Then, both of years at JuCo there’s been a significant injury that kind of limited us in those last few games. So this year I’m hoping for a big win. But, we’re just taking it a day at a time.”

Even though Ford has not experienced any championships or “big dances”, the A-Sun Player of the Week accolades seem to be piling up for the modest star.

“It’s such an honor to get that award, because last year I don’t think I got anything last year. I kind of flew under the radar” Ford said. “This year I’m kind of breaking out again as in the senior year kind of thing that happened in high school. It’s kind of a fun thing to look at.”

Ford lettered three times while playing high school basketball for the Villa Park High School Spartans, earning league MVP honors during her final season in 2006. As Ford made a niche for herself on the stat sheet, the senior found herself getting to know Janell Jones, the head coach for the UC San Diego Tritons, during a series of several visits down to the university.

“She was a lot like my high school coach and I really learned a lot from my high school coach,” Ford said. “She ended up sending me to a junior college because she wasn’t sure if she was going to stay out there. I went there for two years.”

Fate brought the Orange, Calif. native to the Orange and Black, as Ford followed Jones after the head coach made the cross-country move to central Georgia and invited the guard to Mercer University for a visit.

“I honestly didn’t know very much about Mercer until she brought me over here, so I pretty much just followed her,” Ford said. “But, from what I’ve heard and what they’ve told me, this was a really good school to come to.”

Last season, Jones guided the Bears to the program’s first conference tournament victory since 2006 and highest win total since the 1991-92 season. Ford learned very quickly what kind of a basketball program that her new head coach introduced her to, as the junior played alongside two other accomplished transfers, both of whom came to Mercer from Oklahoma State. In 31 games started, Chism averaged 14.4 points per game, finished with 22 blocks and 55 steals and earned Second-Team All-Atlantic Sun honors, while Natasha Doh averaged 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds, while leading the team with 58 steals in 30 games played.

“I knew coming into it that those two players were a key part of what we did that year,” Ford said. “I knew that it was going to run through them a lot considering what had happened the year before and then they finally they get to step in and play.”

This season, Mercer has made an early statement with a 4-2 overall record and a 2-0 A-Sun mark, after the coaches slotted the Bears fifth on the Atlantic Sun Conference preseason poll and placed senior LaToya Jackson on the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team. The senior has teamed with Ford to form the second-highest scoring duo in the conference, at 32.8 points per contest, behind only the pair from ETSU in TaRonda Wiles and Siarre Evans (36.3 ppg).

“Toya and I, ever since last year we’ve kind of gotten that bond, both being seniors and kind of the team leaders and stuff,” Ford said. “We try and run this team as well as we can and feed off of each other.”

The winning record aside, Ford can only look ahead to what lies in conference play, especially when considering A-Sun foes ETSU, the two-time defending A-Sun champions and FGCU, last season’s regular-season champion.

“It feels good right now, but as our coaches said, the toughest teams are going to pull out and win this one and that’s what we’ve got to work on,” Ford said. “We’ve got to work on being tougher. But, I think we’re doing OK right now.”

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The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.

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