basketball

Phoenix Rising

Two weeks ago, AJ Ford was trying to decide between Mississippi Valley St. and American University to continue to continue his basketball career. On October 24, Marquis Godwin decommited from the University of Richmond.On October 30, Coaches Mooney, Jenkins & Lewis were in St. Petersburg, FL visiting AJ and his family. With a scholarship in hand, Ford returned the favor and visited Richmond on his official visit. Tuesday morning, Ford elected to be the final recruit to Coach Mooney's 2017 recruiting class.

Who is AJ?

Phoenix Ford is one of 10 children. His family could play full five-on-five games around the house. The competition in those games was fierce. His oldest brother, Quincy has spent time in both the NBA and D-League this year and another brother is currently playing at Northeastern.He's been winning since birth. He was the first of the triplet brothers and became Baby A. Baby B and Baby C followed. Not content with having siblings named A, B and C, his brother suggested adding a J to the end of each of their names; AJ was born.

How he ended up at Richmond

AJ held offers from Mississippi Valley St. and American. In the summer of 2015, he was hurt and missed most of the AAU circuit. His high school had tremendous players, which meant that Ford was never a focus, picking up most of his points off of rebounds. Over the last 18 months, AJ has been really focusing on transforming his body.

It paid off, as it was reported that he was, "the most active and aggressive we have seen him on the offensive end. When he did get the foul call, Ford connected with regularity. He didn’t take any jump shots in the game we watched but past experience suggests that he is fairly solid from fifteen feet and in. Ford was also more active on the glass and one can only hope that this new-found aggressiveness on the court will not only continue but increase in intensity when July comes around." A mission trip to Thailand pulled him off the AAU circuit again this past Summer and further limited his exposure.

Last year, the coaching staff at Purdue was watching another player on AJ's team. That coach called Kim Lewis and told him. AJ had an offer in hand, but another player provided a verbal to the Spiders prior to AJ making a decision. Once a spot opened up in the Richmond 2017 recruiting class, the coaches acted quickly, knowing who they wanted.

Mooney, Jenkins and Lewis boarded a plane Sunday after Godwin decommitted and had AJ on a plane to Richmond the following weekend. While on campus, AJ met with professors in the B-school and met with President Crutcher. He wants to study finance or economics.

He loved the environment. "I like that everyone supports the basketball team. I was sitting in the gym and people were talking to me about their experiences on campus, the school. It wasn't forced, people just came up to me."AJ only took a day to get back to Coach Mooney, informing him that he wanted to be a Spider.

Looking Forward

Part of the transformation has led to AJ, "trying to be more versatile. Ball handling was the big thing for me, shooting, being able to shoot from outside, mid-range and finishing at the basket. Trying to be as versatile is I can be." Currently, he is most comfortable facing up outside the 3 point line, which is how UR loves to play.

Coach Blackwell on AJ

"You're getting a special guy. I've never had a guy like him. He's long, he's a hard-worker and very versatile."St. Pete has its eyes set on a State Championship and Coach Blackwell knows what it takes to get there. They're one of the best programs in the state of Florida. As such, they're going to really test themselves, including participating against Oak Hill (VA) and participating in the City of Palms Classic, always a big tournament in Florida. "AJ will be battle tested and know how to win. That's what we do here; he'll have that coming into Richmond."

"Who is AJ?" I asked. Laughter on the other end of the phone. It was obvious that AJ was a special guy to Coach Blackwell. "AJ is a person that walks by faith, energetic, fun-loving, very passionate. He's a leader by example. He's not too verbal. There's not a person on my team that wouldn't walk in AJ's footsteps. He's that model young man that gets it done both academically and athletically." Very meaningful from a guy with a history of having a lot of talent on his teams.

Others on AJ

I spoke with someone that has watched a lot of basketball in the Tampa-St. Pete area and here's what he had to say about AJ:"AJ has improved tremendously this off season. Last season he really just got points in the paint off rebounds. He's expanded his perimeter game and is now playing like a guard rather than a rebounding big. Confidence level also improved now that's he's a senior."With a scholarship in hand, AJ will be allowed to focus on his senior year and build on the confidence he has gained this off-season.

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