T.J. Ford – former national player of the year and NBA first-round draft pick – earned his college degree at the University of Texas last week.
It was a proud moment for the 34-year-old – and his family.
“For me, it’s my parents, my upbringing, and something my mom always stressed: getting a degree and having an opportunity to attend the University of Texas,” Ford said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “It’s something that’s real high on her list – more than even me making it to the NBA. So that’s something that I always held close and that’s one motivation. The other motivation is just to be the first one in my family to receive a degree. So for me, it’s about changing my generation and influencing it in a positive way.”
Ford, who played in the NBA from 2003-11, took summer-school classes during his career. He also took courses online and, in recent years, made the final push toward fulfilling his course requirements.
“I think the biggest thing is just the commitment of going back and forth between Houston and Austin during a time period where I have a family,” Ford said. “I have a wife, kids, so it was a busy time. But I found a way to make it work, and I had a good supporting system.”
Ford led Texas to the Final Four in 2003. It was the program’s first Final Four since 1947.
His former head coach, Rick Barnes, who is now the head coach at Tennessee, attended Ford’s graduation.
“We have a special, special relationship,” Ford said. “My parents handed me over to Coach Barnes and gave him the responsibility of parenting me while I was at the University of Texas. He treated me just like his son.”
Ford averaged 11.2 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game in the NBA. His injured his neck during a pickup game with Vince Young and other members of the Texas football team in 2003. In fact, he was temporarily paralyzed.
“Having that feeling for hours is very frightening,” Ford said. “It was very scary. I didn’t know what to expect. A couple weeks went by, and the symptoms went away and I recovered. Then it just became something that I dealt with in the NBA constantly every few years. I just dealt with it and played as long as I possibly could.”
Despite the injury, Ford, who battles spinal stenosis, does not have any regrets about his career.
“I think I had a great career,” he said. “I was obviously limited due to my health, but at the end of the day, as long as you have respect from your peers and you know you gave it 110 percent – and I know I gave this game everything that I had – I was happy with my decision.”