Sports

New Cowboy Ford finds game the same, recruiting different

The September issue of Basketball Times arrived. On the cover was former Kentucky point guard Travis Ford. The three-page centerpiece story e_SEmD headlined "Time to Cowboy up" e_SEmD detailed a rise through the coaching ranks to where he took command of Oklahoma State basketball last spring.

"That's great publicity for our program," he said when asked about the story. "Especially when I'm getting started here."

The story notes a striking coincidence: Ford followed Sean Sutton as Oklahoma State coach just as he followed him in the early 1990s as a UK point guard.

Sutton, who still lives in Stillwater, Okla., called Ford the day of the introductory news conference. He shared his thoughts on the program and its holdover players.

Although the two have been cordial, that conversation might have been a bit awkward. A Sutton has been Oklahoma State coach since Eddie Sutton arrived in 1990. The elder Sutton and Ford have not talked.

But when asked about Sean Sutton, Ford said, "He's been tremendous — very, very good to me."

Oklahoma State marks a big step up for Ford. He came to Stillwater from UMass. He previously coached at Campbellsville and Eastern Kentucky.

"When I step on the court, it's not that big a difference," he said. "I'm still teaching the same system and fundamentals."

The difference comes in recruiting, and not simply that Oklahoma State pursues a better player.

"What I've found the last three or four months is you recruit a whole lot more than just the player," Ford said of recruiting top-50 national prospects. "There are a whole lot more people involved."

People with a vested interest in the prospect?

"Oh yeah," Ford said. "The AAU coach. A couple different handlers here and there you have to speak to. The high school coach. Aunt, uncle, cousin involved."

As for the basketball, Ford is doing what new coaches do. He's installing his style of play and marking his territory with an upgrade in facilities.

Oklahoma State is refurbishing its locker room. In preparation for the upgrade, Ford visited other locker rooms, including those at Louisville and in UK's Craft Center. He fondly recalled how Assistant Athletic Director Russ Pear gave the OSU party a guided tour of the Craft Center and Wildcat Lodge.

While noting how facilities play a role in recruiting, Ford said they are of secondary importance to prospects.

"They want to find a place where they fit the system," Ford said. "That's the big thing right now. 'Am I a big guy who will just stand under the basket?' Or 'Am I a big guy the coach will help develop my full game?' "

And prospects generally consider style of play as critical. The faster the pace the better, not necessarily because a prospect might consider faster more fun.

"Every player wants to get to the NBA, period," Ford said. "That's what they want to know: 'How can I get to the NBA?'

'Well, the NBA has a 24-second shot clock. If you're going to play for a coach who makes you hold the ball for 35 seconds and score in the 50s and 60s, they don't believe that's going to prepare them for the NBA."

Ford wants his teams to play the way he played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky: full-court pressure and quick-draw offense.

It's easy to imagine Ford as an intense competitor on the recruiting circuit. That quality served as his calling card as a player. Guile and tenacious willpower made up for a lack of size and speed.

Ford flashed his competitive nature a year ago when UK exercised its contractual right to avoid a return game to UMass by buying off the Minutemen. He openly objected more than once.

It was nothing personal. Ford takes pride in his UK days. But competition is competition, fair is fair.

When asked about a Kentucky-Oklahoma State series, Ford welcomed the idea.

"Well, I hope so," he said. "I'd love to. ... I'd love to take my team to Rupp Arena. I always enjoyed that."

Proffitt leftovers

Leftovers from former South Laurel point guard Ty Proffitt's transfer from Notre Dame to Morehead State:

 MSU Coach Donnie Tyndall could take a bow for following a Recruiting 101 truism. Do not burn your bridges.

On his first day as MSU coach in 2006, Tyndall made a recruiting call to Proffitt's home. When Proffitt committed to Notre Dame, Tyndall called to offer his congratulations and good wishes.

"One thing you learn early on in recruiting," Tyndall said. "Even if a guy upsets you and tells you he's going somewhere else, at the end of the day it's good to stay positive and wish him well. Because you never know what will happen."

 Proffitt's ties to Morehead State include his father's job. Glenn Proffitt works as a sales rep for Lowes Sporting Goods and counts MSU as one of his customers.

PTPer, Hall of Famer

In advance of his Friday induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, ebullient broadcaster Dick Vitale conducted a teleconference. Highlights:

 His realization that he was better suited, as a coach, to the college game rather than the NBA.

"I was fired up on a daily basis," he said. "You can't do that. I had bleeding ulcers. I couldn't handle losing. It ripped me to shreds."

 Marveling at his rapid rise. In 1970, he coached a sixth grade team in New Jersey. By the end of the decade, he had coached the University of Detroit into the 1977 NCAA Tournament (where the Titans lost to Michigan in Rupp Arena) and the Detroit Pistons.

 His desire to be a coach and then choosing basketball over football and baseball. Why basketball? Basketball was more egalitarian. You didn't have to be well-connected or be a former player to make a mark.

 Vitale noted the coincidental timing of his induction. He went into the Hall of Fame the same year as Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson, who fired Vitale as coach in 1979.

One final question: What kind of world are we living in when the attention surrounding Vitale's induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame dwarfs that of fellow inductee Pat Riley?

Tubby helps UK

Daniel Orton, one of the more heralded big man prospects in the class of 2009, is expected to visit UK during Big Blue Madness weekend.

As a sideline to the recruiting process, the prospect's father, Larry Orton, called former UK coach Tubby Smith about a month ago to get an opinion of Kentucky basketball. Smith vouched for UK, the fans and his successor, Billy Gillispie.

"He was telling me they really, really love the players," said Larry Orton, who originally got acquainted with Smith at Tulsa. " ... And he really liked Billy Gillispie."

Smith called Gillispie "a very good coach, a very good up-and-coming coach," Larry Orton said.

Larry Orton took Smith at his word. "I thought he told me the truth," the elder Orton said before adding, "I kind of can tell."

Recruiting

 Highly regarded guard prospect John Wall told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer earlier this week that he had set visits to Memphis, Kansas and Oregon.

No date had been set for the perceived favorite, Baylor, Wall told the newspaper.

Wall wasn't sure if he'd make a fifth official visit, the most permitted by the NCAA. He included UK among the contenders for that visit. He also noted Texas and perhaps Duke as possibilities.

 Some recruiting services dropped big man prospect Daniel Orton this summer. Not significantly, but enough for people to notice.

One service that did not drop Orton was Prep Stars. One of its analysts, Brick Oettinger, suggested Orton might be a victim of expectations.

"I always feel he's capable of a lot more than he shows," said Oettinger, who rates Orton at No. 22 and considers him a "serious candidate" for the McDonald's All-American team.

"Because he's a 6-10, 250-pound guy with skills and a lot of athleticism, not great (athleticism) but good," Oettinger said. "Those guys don't grow on trees. Every year there's not many of those guys."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie is scheduled to visit Orton's Oklahoma City home on Thursday. Kansas visits on Wednesday. No date for a home visit had been set for Ohio State, the third school at the top of Orton's list.

Orton will get a double-dose of Madness. He's scheduled to visit UK's Big Blue Madness on Oct. 10. The following weekend he'll attend the Kansas Madness while on an official visit.

Full disclosure

Further proof arrived last week that there's no set-in-stone approach to how basketball programs handle academic eligibility questions.

When asked about DeAndre Liggins and Kevin Galloway, UK refused to confirm academic eligibility. Galloway cleared up the confusion by saying he gained his eligibility. Conventional wisdom remains that both are eligible.

Meanwhile, some other schools get the word to fans. For instance, defending national champion Kansas issued a release last week saying twins Markieff and Marcus Morris had gained their eligibility.

"We certainly understand the uniqueness of these circumstances," Kansas Coach Bill Self said in a news release, "so we appreciate the NCAA's cooperation in reviewing the material involved in a timely manner. We felt all along that the twins had successfully completed their required courses, but we respect the fact that we had to go through this process."

Kansas also released a statement from the Morris twins that expressed their relief and appreciation for those who helped them gain eligibility.

The Morris twins are part of a seven-player class rated No. 2 in the country by Rivals.com.

Happy birthday

To former UK guard Dale Brown. He turned 40 on Saturday.

Brown's distinction at UK was his evolution as a player: from junior college prospect billed as an extraordinary shooter even by Rick Pitino standards to lock-down defensive specialist on a Final Four team. And it all happened in two short seasons.

"I still feel good," Brown said on the eve of his 40th birthday. "I work out a lot. I still get out and play ball with the players."

About to begin his first season as coach at Dillard University, an NAIA school in New Orleans, Brown and his team beat a fast retreat as Hurricane Gustav approached.

The school sent its students to Centenary College in Shreveport. Brown visited relatives in Birmingham, Ala., and then the gulf coast of Mississippi.

With power restored on Thursday, Dillard planned to welcome back its students on Saturday and begin classes on Monday.

Brown inherits a team that had a 7-22 record last season (1-17 in the league). He's got hopes for a turnaround this season thanks, in part, to two players he brought along from the high school state championship team he coached at Moss Point, Miss., last season. The two are 6-8 Travis Jackson, who originally committed to Arkansas State, and point guard Avry Ingram.

Incorporating the kind of up-tempo style he played for Pitino at Kentucky should also help bring big improvement, Brown said.

His UK ties will help Brown establish himself at Dillard. The team will play an exhibition game at Arkansas on Nov. 6. Of course, former UK teammate John Pelphrey coaches Arkansas.

In the 2009-10 season, Brown had lined up games at Oklahoma State (coached by ex-teammate Travis Ford) and Arizona State (coached by ex-UK assistant Herb Sendek).

"And I'm working with Tubby (Smith) and Billy (Donovan)," Brown said of future schedules.

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