How TJ Ford Gets Ready to Ball

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In 2002, TJ Ford was the first freshman in NCAA history to lead the nation in assists. A year later, he led Texas to their first Final Four since 1947, capturing the Naismith and John R. Wooden Player of the Year Awards. After being selected in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks, TJ posted some legit numbers as a rook, leading the Bucks with 6.5 assists per game—despite the fact that he missed much of the year with a spinal contusion. After sitting out the entire '04-'05 season with the injury, TJ was cleared for action and orchestrated a smooth transition back to the game. After being traded last summer, TJ has found a new home and is back to making noise in the league as a premier six-foot dish man. Below he explains how he gets ready to ball without a hitch—most of the time.

STACK: Take us through your pre-game routine.
I'll start from the beginning of the day. We have a 10 a.m. shoot-around where we do some shooting drills, go over team plays and then get some more shots in. Then I watch some film, get treatment and eat something. Once I come back home, I rest by watching TV and playing video games or on the computer. For 7 o'clock games, we have to be at the arena at 5:30, so I try to nap for 45 minutes to an hour around 3 o'clock—more than that is too much for me. Then I take a shower, put on my clothes and head out so I'm at the gym by 5:15. I get dressed, get more treatment, then lift some weights and listen to music. I finish lifting about an hour and five minutes before the game, and then go out and get my shots in for about 15 good minutes to sweat a little and get in a good rhythm. Fifteen minutes before the game, we have our team meeting.

Does being on the road affect your routine?
It's always the same. We have two buses we can take to the arena when we're on the road. I make sure I get on the first bus, which is usually for the younger guys or ones coming off the bench. I make sure to get there early so I can take my time getting ready.

Do you prepare differently depending on who you face that night?
I make sure to go over the game notes, look at how the guy I'm guarding has played the last five games and how his team has been doing. I want to see if he's been aggressive recently, or if he has been in a slump. That dictates how hard he'll come out playing and what kind of game it will be. I'll know how I need to play defensively, because I know how he's going to start out. I'll put some pressure on him early to make him miss a couple shots and lose confidence. If I can do that, the game will be a lot better for me the rest of the night.

What's the mood like in the locker room pre-game?
It all depends; sometimes I crack jokes and loosen the guys up, and other times I'm serious. Everyone usually does their own thing and zones out once they get to the gym. Our locker room here in Toronto is kind of quiet. Everybody is allowed to do whatever they need to do to get ready for the game, so people don't step over the boundaries.

Has anything ever gone wrong right before a game?
I forgot to put my jersey on for a home game against Milwaukee last year. I had to run back into the locker room during the starting lineups. I have a routine. I wear two pairs of socks for the game. But before the game, I wear only one pair; I put the other on during our meeting. I always have an undershirt on, and then I put my jersey on. Stuff goes on and off, but I try to keep it the same, and I forgot that one time. It was pretty funny.

Have you changed your routine up at all since college and high school?
I think so. Now, my pre-game is much more aggressive. I believe in getting a sweat and going hard before the game. Back then, I just did some spot shooting beforehand.

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