Riding a 31-game win streak, junior Derrian Ford led his Magnolia Panthers into the 2020-21 season on a mission.
As a freshman in 2018-19, the four-star recruit led his squad to a state title, earning the tournament MVP in the process.
The following season, the Panthers didn’t lose a single game, though their postseason was cut short due to COVID-19. They were still crowned 4A state champions thanks in large part to their undefeated record and all-around dominance.
Magnolia opened the 2020-2021 season with a 100-53 beatdown of Ashdown before rattling off 20 more wins in a row, stretching their win streak to a staggering 52 straight, ranking 3rd in Arkansas AAA history behind West Memphis (60) in 1980-81 and Stephens (60) in 1998-99 according to the AAA Record Book.
Ford’s squad ultimately lost to fellow 2022 prospect, Razorback-commit Joseph Pinion, and the Morrilton Devil Dogs in the state playoffs.
Since then, Ford has had the fortune of receiving personal training with a seven-time NBA All-Star.
Joe Johnson, the last Little Rock Central alum to win the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s state player of the year award before Bryson Warren, contacted Derrian Ford’s father Darnell and offered to help the promising talent hone his game for the next level or two.
“He said he was just ready to put in some run with me and I said, ‘I am going to soak it all in, learn from him and become a better player and just try to make my dream (of playing the NBA) come true,” Ford told recruiting reporter Richard Davenport.
When it comes to recruiting, Ford hasn’t been shy about his love for Arkansas.
Derrian Ford clearing out his summer schedule to spend time training with a should-be Hall of Famer is about getting better as an individual player, but the fact Johnson is a former Hog star, proud Arkansan and die-hard Razorback fan can’t hurt.
Nor does the fact that Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman is building a monster of a program.
Ford is scheduled to make his official visit to Arkansas on June 4-6. “Me and my family are excited to go up there to Arkansas and build an even better relationship with the coaches,” Ford told Davenport.”
“I have not set up any other visits besides Arkansas,” added Ford, ranked by ESPN as the No. 42 player in the class of 2022.
“This is my only one right now.”
Eric Musselman’s Early Success at Arkansas
Arkansas basketball is entering a new golden age under Eric Musselman.
In his first offseason at Arkansas, he landed one of the best recruiting classes in Razorback basketball history. Four ESPN Top 100 recruits, all with Arkansas roots, landed in Fayetteville for the 2020-21 season. Along with the four freshmen, Musselman landed three big-name grad transfers to shore up both sides of the ball.
One transfer, Justin Smith, turned out to be one of the best Razorback big men in recent memory averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG. He was also being named to the All-Tournament Second Team during the Razorbacks’ first Elite Eight run since 1995.
That run, field by the in-state freshmen, impressed Ford.
“I saw a lot of strength and success from the coaches and the freshmen and the coaches showed me that if you put in the work – no matter what age or class you are – on and off the court that you will play,” Ford said.
“They showed all the people around the country that they can play with anybody – Baylor, Texas, Auburn, Gonzaga Kentucky, Duke, whoever.”
Now, with their historic run in the rear-view mirror, Musselman has gone right back to work. He’s already recruited four more big-time transfers for next season and has room to add a couple more. They’re set to arrive with highly touted freshman Chance Moore.
Musselman has seen nothing but success both on and off the court during his time with the Hogs so far, and Razorback fans are anxious to see what he pulls off next.
Hear from Arkansas basketball’s most recent addition, Jaxson Robinson:
Recruiting Derrian Ford
Musselman has already landed one major in-state recruit from the 2022 class in 6’6 wing, Joseph Pinion. The Morrilton product chose the Hogs over the likes of Kansas, Baylor, Creighton, and others.
Now, the 6’4 guard out of Magnolia will soon face a similar decision. Though Arkansas was one of the first teams to offer Ford a scholarship in 2019, he now holds offers from several major programs including Kansas, Baylor, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn.
Although he and his family haven’t yet set up an official visit to other programs, they have made no secret about appreciating the offers:
Baylor was Derrian Ford very first offer when he was a Freshman at 14 years old… Now they are National Champs!!! Derrian Dad always had him in the weight room at a young age it’s a grown man game son he would always say…GOD GETS ALL THE GLORY… pic.twitter.com/L7xZOmLckn
— Marc Ford (@MarcFor46612972) April 6, 2021
Ford has spoken highly of Musselman and the Hogs in the past.
During an interview on “The Morning Rush” radio show, Ford alluded to Musselman’s ability to prepare players for the NBA: “The coaches, man. Watching the videos and knowing coach Muss coached in the NBA. I just know they can develop players like me to get to the NBA, and that’s a goal of mine to get to the NBA.”
“They just make you feel like family. It’s more than basketball with them.”
Now, with the Hogs achieving success not seen in his lifetime, he’s praised the team’s efforts as well in a recent interview from local Fox 16 KLRT:
“Every game, it seems like every player on the team wants the same thing and that’s to win. No player was worried about stats or who scored the most points. It seemed like every time they got into adversity, they pulled through it.”
Derrian Ford Continues to Improve
Since entering High School, Derrian Ford is a combined 73-6. He has scored over 1500 points so far with his senior year still looming. Ford has led Magnolia in scoring in each of his three seasons. He’s also been named Arkansas’s 4A Player of the Year as a freshman, sophomore, and junior.
Through three seasons of high school ball, Ford has improved all parts of his game, on and off the court.
In a recent interview from “Pig Trail Nation,” Ford’s high school coach Ben Lindsey praised Derrian Ford for improving not only the physical aspect of his game but also the mental aspect.
He said: “[Ford’s] decision making has gotten a lot better. Vocally, he’s always been a lead-by-example guy and now he’s very vocal.” With maturity and experience, it’s only natural that Ford gains more confidence in himself and his team, but being able to translate that confidence into verbal leadership at such a young age is impressive in and of itself.
Of course, becoming more of a leader is only part of his daily grind. Ford is known to be a gym rat, always improving his physical tools and on-court skillset.
Ford’s uncle, Marc Ford, recently posted a video to Twitter of the 6’4 202 pound guard bench pressing 300lbs!
Derrian Ford as of today is 6’4 1/2 202lbs he hit the 300lbs club. Somebody Program go get a Big Strong Solid Combo Guard in 2022 his first step is a killer and he have a inside and outside game…Hard Work No Off days for D Ford get Bigger,Stronger and Quicker!GOD’S PLAN🙏🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/VApBo6hJ7L
— Marc Ford (@MarcFor46612972) April 11, 2021
From a physical standpoint, the junior guard is already poised to make an instant impact wherever he goes to college, not to mention he’s got the ever-improving skill set to match.
Since he started playing high school ball in 9th grade, Ford has shown his ability to penetrate defenses and find room to get his shot off in the paint. He possesses a plethora of dribble moves that he’s not afraid to use in a crowded space, helping him find good looks even after getting past the first wave of defense.
It’s common for athletic guards, especially at a young age, to fall victim to their own athleticism. They often crash into or through defenders trying to make highlight plays at the rim.
But matter how far into the paint Derrian Ford penetrates, he is adept at staying in full control of the ball and his body, seeming to shift and glide to an open space that only a trained eye can find on the fly.
Though he has a well-rounded game already, the part of his game he has needed to most improve is his outside shooting. Ford has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter but does not have the purest of shooting forms. This past season, Ford showed improvement in his shot mechanics.
His shot is becoming smoother, higher, and quicker, all of which are necessary to get shots off against Power Five opponents.
From his sophomore to junior season, Ford improved his 3P% from 37% to 39%. This may not seem like much of a jump, but over the course of 20+ games each season, this is a notable improvement for the young guard.
As he continues to improve this part of his game, Ford will minimize one of the few weaknesses he has shown to this point in his career.
Time spent with Joe Johnson, one of the best three-point shooters of his time, has already improved Ford’s mechanics.
This video shows that clearly:
When the hoops jumpin' off in the 501, count me in! Hogs & NBA great Joe Johnson @TheJoeJohnson7 & '22 Arkansas offer & Nat'l No. 39 / 4* Derrian Ford @thetruthballers (6-4 CG, Magnolia) are keepin' the nets wet during an #IsoGrindAcademy workout on Saturday … pic.twitter.com/uFXUToUaqZ
— Kevin McPherson (@ARHoopScoop) May 15, 2021
Derrian Ford: Arkansas Basketball Comparison
In a piece about Ford’s game last season, we compared his relentless drive and finishing ability to that of former Razorback, Mason Jones.
While this still holds some truth, Jones is much more of a shooter that relies on IQ and good looks.
Ford is an athletic guard capable of blowing past defenders with a higher success rate. His unique combination of athleticism and body control shows shades of a more recent Razorback guard, freshman Davonte “Devo” Davis.
Davis is a lanky guard that also leans heavily on his athleticism and quickness to make plays for himself.
Similar to Ford, Devo’s biggest weakness is a consistent 3-point shot. Though he still has room to grow, Ford looks to be developing consistency in his jumper at a younger age. The two guards are both as quick as a hiccup with the ball in their hands.
Though they may appear out of control due to the speed with which they fly down the paint, both have a mesmerizing ability to maintain control of their body and put the ball in the hoop through traffic.
The main difference in their game stems from their physical toolsets. Davis is 6’4, but plays bigger because of his long arms and quick leaping ability.
He leans on speed and finesse to assist his drives to the Hoop, while Ford is more dependent on his strength. Though he’s also roughly 6’4, Ford plays like more of a combo guard than a true wing player like Davis.
Ford is capable of scoring in post-up situations against weaker guards, something Davis has not yet shown a knack for.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Davis started his career shooting 2/4 from behind the arc.
However, he ended his season on a 0/9 stretch, landing his season 3-point total at 2/13 (15.4%). Naturally, shooting percentages are expected to fall off slightly when transitioning from playing against High School competition to the collegiate level, but comparing Davis’s poor outside shooting this year to Ford’s 39% shooting from distance speaks volumes.
Razorbacks Remain Hopeful to Land Derrian Ford
Ford has made it known that the NBA is the ultimate goal. He continues to put in the work, and the results from his high school career speak for himself. Now, in his words, he’s looking for a coach who “can develop players like me to get to the NBA.”
While the ultimate goal is succeeding in the NBA, Ford is looking to win along the way. On Eric Musselman trusting his younger players throughout the season and postseason, Ford says, “it made me feel that, with Coach Musselman, if you put in the work he’s going to give you a chance. He’s very interactive with his players, on and off the court. He just trusts his players, because I think he put four freshmen out there at one time [before KK Robinson’s injury].”
Musselman has proven his worth on the court, in the transfer portal, on the in-state recruiting trail, and as an NBA coach, but one of his biggest challenges still lies ahead.
Whoever lands Ford will gain a tough, versatile, hard-working guard capable of making an immediate impact as well as continuing to improve throughout his collegiate career.
Arkansas basketball fans should be thankful that Musselman is on their side in this recruiting battle.
Author: Brandon Baker
Contributor and Senior Writer for overtimeheroics.net
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