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Taylor-Made: Ford Takes Versatile Role, Tough Love from Hillsman as Syracuse's 6th Man

Taylor Ford has done a little bit of everything for Syracuse this season. Everything except, well, please her No. 1 critic, coach Quentin Hillsman.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Practice suddenly came to a halt as Quentin Hillsman walks from the top of the 3-point line to the right corner, while holding some basketball diagrams and wearing his usual disgruntled expression.

He begins by saying just one word, the name of the player who is the subject of most of his criticism.


His 6-foot-0 junior forward, Taylor Ford, had just come off a solid performance against Boston College when she scored a season-high 15 points. She filled in, admirably, for the injured Briana Day and played center for the first time since her freshman year of college. Coming into the practice, she had averaged 11.7 points over the past three games, all wins, and scored more in that span of games than in the previous six.

But that doesn't excuse her from Hillsman's scrutiny.

The "neon green light" he gives to some shooters doesn't apply to Ford. Every move she makes, every pass and every play is under the microscope.

"You got to grasp that," he yells out.

It immediately gets silent in the Carmelo K. Anthony practice gym as Hillsman walks over to Ford, who's standing near the right corner.  In Hillsman's 2-3 zone defense, it's very important for forwards to keep the ball from going to the short corner, he'd explain after practice. To do that effectively, his players need to have the proper footwork and body position.

Syracuse got burned by the 3 against Duke, but its improved perimeter defense has been instrumental in a recent winning streak that followed. The Orange held its next three opponents to just 25.4 percent from behind-the-arc.

It's just a little after 10:30 during a Wednesday practice when Hillsman starts to berate Ford. Hillsman knows he's hardest on her, even acknowledging that she gets two or three times as much criticism as other players.

"I want her to be so good," Hillsman said after a recent win. "For her to just take it and grind and never give up and just take it, that's it. She's one of my favorite kids on this planet."

The tough love from coach to player has worked out well so far this season. Even though Ford comes off the bench, she's arguably one of Syracuse's most irreplaceable players. She's third on the team in rebounds (4.5 per game), despite playing the sixth most minutes. Most often, she's the first player Hillsman goes to off the bench. The only forward with more minutes, starter or reserve, is Day.

Hillsman's pressure of Ford stems from a promise he made to Robert "Apache" Paschall, who coached Ford at Nazareth Regional High School in Brooklyn. Paschall was a close friend of Hillsman until he passed away in 2012 at the age of 38. Before that, Hillsman vowed to him to make Ford better as a player and as a person.

"It's more about me having a responsibility to make sure that she's the best basketball player she can be, make sure that she leaves here with a degree and to move on and be productive in her adult life," Hillsman said.


Taylor Nicole Ford was born in April 1994 and grew up as the youngest of four kids in the Bronx. Ford describes herself as a "silly kid", who was a bit immature. She didn't take basketball very seriously, or even consider it as a way to get an education, until 8th grade. Around that time, she met Paschall, her coach at Nazareth and on the AAU circuit for Exodus.

Ford not only credits Coach Paschall for developing her skills on the court, but for helping her become mature off of it.

"He was the one who told me that me changing my way, the way I talked and the way that I presented myself was going to get me far in life," Ford said.

In high school, Ford became surrounded by an array of talented players, who now make up Division I and WNBA rosters, including her own college teammate, Brianna Butler.  Ford started going on AAU trips and began to see that basketball was more than just a recreational activity.

"It was serious," she said. "College coaches came and watched. The other teams have fancy uniforms and bookbags. I was like wow, this is a whole different thing. This is not just basketball on the court or in the playground. This is a serious organization."

Ford won a pair of state championships in high school and drew interest from Ohio State, Penn State, and USF. The four-star recruit picked Syracuse, joining what was the highest ranked recruiting class in team history.

She's quickly developed into one of Syracuse's most skilled, physical and versatile players, yet has never started a game in her college career.  That's partly by design for Hillsman, who likes to bring his do-it-all players off the bench. He converted Carmen Tyson-Thomas from starter to reserve two years ago because of her ability, like Ford, to play multiple positions.

In all three seasons at Syracuse, Ford has had more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds. Ford attributes that to an understanding of how the ball comes off the rim, depending on who is shooting. Butler's missed shots, for example, don't ricochet very far so Ford positions herself closer to the rim. This season, Ford and the Orange lead the ACC in offensive rebounds with 17.6 per game and rank in the top ten in the entire nation.

"We need rebounders," Day said. "It's a battle down there so it's good to have someone down there battling with me."

That recent success makes Hillsman's criticisms a little bit easier.

"Sometimes when he's really hard on me in practice, I'm just think 'oh man this is so frustrating'", Ford said.  "But then again, when I'm by myself and I think about it, I know he's really looking out for the best for me."

Said Ford, "My high school coach would always say, "If the person isn't yelling at you, they don't care about you." ​