Ford’s storybook basketball life comes to the KSU bench

Doug Gulasy

Geno Ford talks at a press conference Wednesday after being named the new men’s basketball head coach. ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

People don’t usually make major decisions at 2 a.m., but that was the case for Laing Kennedy, Kent State director of athletics.

As it became clear that men’s basketball coach Jim Christian would be leaving Kent State for Texas Christian University, Kennedy quickly began the process of finding a replacement.

“After saying a couple ‘damn its,’ I then called (assistant coach) Geno (Ford),” Kennedy said. “I think it had to be like 2 a.m. in the morning. (I said), ‘If I can’t sleep, you can’t either.'”

Kennedy was right. Despite the early hour, Ford, who spent the 2007-08 season as Christian’s top assistant, was ready for the phone call.

“He didn’t wake me up, I can assure you,” Ford said. “It was answered on the first ring. Caller ID’s a great thing. Laing (is calling): ‘Oh, I’ve got that.'”

The 2 a.m. phone call was the first in a chain of events culminating in Kennedy announcing Ford as the new men’s basketball coach Wednesday.

“(At first), we were kind of upset (about Christian

leaving) because we had such a great year and we were looking forward to him coming back and coaching,” said Al Fisher, who will be a senior on the 2008-09 team. “Geno came in (and) we also know we’ve got another great coach.

“He knows the system and he knows what’s expected from the program. So it should be good.”

Ford’s new position is the latest chapter in his basketball life. He has been around the sport for most of his life, beginning as a star player before becoming a coach.

Ford starred at guard at Cambridge High School. He scored 2,680 career points, third in Ohio history and more than LeBron James scored in his high school days. After his 1993 senior season, in which he averaged 35.9 points per game, the Ohio Associated Press named him its “Mr. Basketball.”

Then Ford moved on to the college ranks. At Ohio University, he scored 1,752 points, which ranks him fifth in Bobcat history.

Despite his statistics, Ford recognized he would have to shift his focus to coaching if he wanted to remain around basketball.

“I realized pretty early on that although I’d like to play in the NBA and had a decent career, that probably wasn’t going to happen given some limitations physically,” Ford said. “(I’ve) always wanted to coach.”

As a coach, Ford believes in hard work – beginning with himself. The athletic department said Ford would make in the neighborhood of $200,000 for the 2008-09 season. From his comments at Wednesday’s press conference, Ford plans to earn that money.

“What I’m going to do is show up every day, show up early, leave late, work hard in between and make sure our kids go to class, graduate and we win games,” Ford said.

Ford expects that same work ethic and determination from his players, both on and off the court.

“He’ll have these guys working from the time they start within the next couple weeks ’till the first game of the year,” graduating senior Mike Scott said.

At his introductory press conference Wednesday, Ford talked about another place he expects hard work – the classroom. He spoke several times about academics and said afterward he considers the “student” part of student-athlete important.

“For me personally, it’s really important,” Ford said. “It’s extremely important to Mr. Kennedy. I know that had that not been the philosophy by him that’s kind of gone on over the years, our program wouldn’t be as successful.

“You can look around and find other teams in our league that have just as much talent as we do, or you could argue more for some, certainly as you look around the country. But we’ve been able competitively on the floor to beat some of them. The reason is because of quality of kid and the character of the program. And that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on.”

Contact sports reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].