Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ortiz: Ford, SLU Working to Energize Local Fan Base

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ortiz: Ford, SLU Working to Energize Local Fan Base

Article excerpt

Less than an hour before the most exciting victory of Travis Ford's tenure at St. Louis University, the veteran coach gave his Billikens their pregame instructions and then rushed across Chaifetz Arena to make another important plea.

Ford was the featured speaker at SLU's reception Wednesday night for the St. Louis Sports Commission, and dang if his fiery speech didn't inspire me to grab a rebound for him.

I would offer to shoot, but I'm short and actually quite limited in that department. He'll have to settle for an assist. Ford is building something special at SLU, and a thriving Billikens program would be a much needed enhancement to the local sporting scene.

"There's no doubt it, it's a struggle as far as the wins and losses, but I think you'll appreciate how hard the team plays," Ford said. "They're getting better every game. I always hold my breath every game, and hopefully we continue to improve.

"But this group, believe it not, it's been a joy. People are surprised for me to say it because I'm such a competitor. But it's a very much joy to coach this team."

Ford then lifted his arms, balled his fists slightly and formed circles by putting the tips of his thumbs and index fingers together to resemble wide eyes.

"This team, I tell you, every single day that I walk into practice and I walk into the locker room to watch film with these guys, and their eyes are this big around and they have forgot about the day before and they're ready to learn today," he said. "And that's all I can ask out of them.

"As long as they continue to improve, as long as they keep the attitude they have and play hard, then good things will happen. And they're laying the foundation for what we hope is greatness in the future."

It might be a stretch to call Ford's first season a rebuilding year because that implies that a foundation was in place. He is barely laying the foundation for his style here. The undermanned 2016-17 team has taken its lumps without giving up on the season or each other. They are gritty and a tough out, resembling the proud city they represent.

They were picked in the preseason to finish last in the Atlantic 10 conference. We're missing the point if we judge them by a 3-7 league record that is only one victory better than last place but actually not far from the middle of the pack.

The Billikens won Saturday night against North Carolina A&T for an 8-15 overall record and a 7-7 record at Chaifetz Arena.

More importantly, Ford has impressive reinforcements on the way. Four transfers and two freshmen are expected to make immediate and significant impacts next season. Jordan Goodwin of Belleville's Althoff High gives Ford his first top local recruit at SLU. Hasahn French from Commonwealth Academy in Middletown, N.Y., is the other four-star recruit set to join the Billikens next fall. …

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