Ford shifts the tempo on the Hilltop
Kent State 2008–11 68-37
Muskingum 2005–07 29-22
Shawnee St. 2001–02 22-10
Career record in six seasons 119-69
Ohio Univ. 1998–2001
Kent State 2002–05, 2007–08
NABC District 14 2010
Mid-American Conf. 2010, 2011
American Mideast Conf. 2002
Ohio University, BA ’97, organizational communications; Ohio University, MA ’99, athletic administration
By KAREN CROWLEY METZINGER, MA '97
With “big hopes and great expectations,” Geno Ford, the 13th head coach in Bradley basketball history, is building a team and staff with “one voice and one heartbeat.”
Eager to start the season, the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year for the last two seasons at Kent State University acknowledges Bradley as a special place on the college basketball landscape, where he plans to satisfy the hunger of its dedicated fans.
“The community is hungry for a winner, and the campus is hungry for a winner,” Ford says. “Our job is to turn that hunger into something meaningful and to play some meaningful games in February and March — something that not only the fans can enjoy, but that they can wrap their arms around and want to be a part of every year.”
Recruiting: the lifeblood of college basketball
Setting his sights on filling his freshman recruiting class with class-act student-athletes, Ford says it was no accident that his first three players who officially visited campus and were offered scholarships ended up signing. Citing genuine administrative support and vision, basketball facilities that are “off the chart,” and new construction and renovations across campus, Ford adds, “It’s an exciting time to be here for coaches and players."
“Our class of recruits, Jalen Crawford, Devon Hodges, Donivine Stewart, Nate Wells, and Shayok Shayok can be one of the top freshman classes in the conference,” notes Ford. “As a group overall, five freshmen is a big number, but I think our fans will enjoy seeing kids come in and play and develop over four years. We felt it was important that we added four-year players — kids who are good students and good people who represent the University well and also do well in the classroom. They’re going to have opportunities that, quite frankly, they wouldn’t have at a lot of other places.”
Ford wasted no time in retaining WILLIE SCOTT ’83 as an assistant coach and in hiring Jaden Uken, who was his assistant at Kent State for the past three years. “Retaining Willie is a big positive. Willie knows the ins and outs of the University and can navigate campus situations effectively. He has a good basketball mind. Jaden can recruit, teach our system, and shares our staff’s deep passion to bring Bradley basketball back to a high level.”
He also hired Patrick Beilein, Dartmouth assistant coach and son of University of Michigan coach John Beilein, as his director of operations. Ford notes that Beilein scored a thousand points in the Big East on a Sweet 16 team and an Elite 8 team for West Virginia University.
At press time, Ford announced former Boise State head coach Greg Graham would complete his staff. Graham brings 28 years of college coaching experience to the Braves bench.
“In today’s era of coaching, you’re building a staff much the same as you’re building a roster of players. It’s great to find the guys who have been around — someone you can lean on for advice. I’ve never been in need of ‘yes men’ around me. I like people who challenge me a bit. I think that’s how you get better. I don’t coach with a big ego in terms of, ‘I have all the answers.’ If any of us had all the answers, we’d be undefeated every year.”
Why the Bradley Braves?
The strength of the Braves’ fan base was a key element in Ford’s desire to coach at Bradley. He’ll always remember being in Hawaii for a tournament more than a decade ago with top teams, including Wake Forest and Gonzaga, but everywhere he turned, he bumped into Bradley fans, even during a year when the Braves were struggling.
“The school that traveled the best fans was Bradley,” says Ford. “That made an unforgettable impression on me. There were so many more people from Bradley who had made the trip to Hawaii than ACC schools like Wake Forest. You just don’t find the basketball history that I know is here.”
Growing up in a basketball family
Born in Dover, Ohio, in 1974, Ford learned to love basketball as a kindergartner. His father Gene Ford coached at Cambridge High School, and Ford says he spent his entire childhood in the gym. He learned by watching his dad teach other kids.
“My dad’s gift was getting guys to play together. He understood chemistry very well. If I picked up one thing that he did very well, it would be that. The team that wants to play together is more on the same page and is able to go farther in terms of wins and losses. That’s what makes it fun; the games aren’t played on paper.”
While playing for his dad in high school, Ford was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball in 1993, after he averaged 35.9 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. More importantly, he also won the heart of one of the Cambridge cheerleaders — his wife Traci.
Teaching core values
Believing all his players must embrace the same core values, Ford understands the power of building confidence and trust. “I don’t want players to ever look towards the bench and wonder what I’m thinking,” says Ford. “They need to play with confidence. We want guys who believe in themselves and believe in their teammates. That’s really key, and that’s where confidence leads into trust.”
Ford’s focus is on attacking offensively and defensively to build a hard-nosed team that fans appreciate. “Our focus in basketball is that we want to reflect and be part of the great success that our alumni have had,” says Ford. “It’s impressive to see the list of accomplished alums and the generosity they have shown to the University. I hope that our alums can feel very attached to our basketball program, and that the same atmosphere that President Glasser works to permeate through campus is very evident in our basketball program.
“We have a great sense of obligation to put together a program that our alums can be proud of, and our players understand that. Players win. It’s my program, but it’s their team.”