Now Quinnipiac's most experienced guard, James Ford gets his chance to step out of shadows and onto main stage. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
James Johnson. Dave Johnson. Evan Conti. Zaid Hearst.
The common thread between those four names is that each spent four years adding their autograph to the annals of continuity in the Quinnipiac backcourt, making greater contributions in every passing season. A new signature will be added inside the TD Bank Sports Center over the next several months, that of James Ford, the lone senior among the stable of guards in the Bobcat program, and one who has blossomed from role player to team leader both on and off the court.
"We've leaned on James a lot initially," head coach Tom Moore recounted during the run up to Quinnipiac's season opener, which takes place in the Connecticut 6 on Friday against in-state rival Sacred Heart. "He brings us emotion, passion, energy in practice, and he's about as good as we've ever had at that."
When you look at the Virginia native's past statistics, gradual improvement can be seen almost instantly as Ford has seen his share of playing time increase in direct proportion from six minutes per game his freshman season to 12 the year after, and just under 18 during last season's 15-15 campaign. Don't let the quiet offensive totals fool you either, for Ford is one of the more vocal players in the locker room, and because of the complement of players around him, one who knows his purpose without needing to fall into the trap of doing too much.
Ford's defensive totals have not increased exponentially, but that is the nature of Quinnipiac's system, which stresses physicality and rebounding with a greater emphasis than turnovers and transition opportunities. His ability to attack the glass has taken flight, though, going from 13 rebounds as a freshman to 49 as a sophomore before a career-high 73 last season.
"We need him to continue to rebound and continue to make big shots for us," Moore said of Ford, "but he doesn't need to be a great scorer, and I'm glad he doesn't have that pressure on him. I do think we could get scoring from other pieces this year. I think Ayron Hutton as a sophomore will be a better scorer, and Gio (McLean) has obviously scored in the past as an older player."
"When we think of James," he expounded, "we don't really need him to go from a six, seven, eight-point scorer to 18 or 20 just because Zaid Hearst did that last year. I think all we need him to do is take even more of a leadership role on the defensive end and play the best perimeter player on the other team, whether it be a one, two, or a three."