NORMAL — Dana Ford is trying to make up for lost time.
"As crazy as it sounds, I'm trying to make a career in one year," said the 6-foot-4 Illinois State senior guard.
He's off to a pretty good start.
Ford, who averaged only 11 minutes of playing time per game in his first three seasons, is logging 30 minutes this year and has proved to be a vital piece of the Redbirds' 3-1 start.
He leads the team in steals with 10, ranks second in rebounds (5.5) and third in scoring (10.3). That's a far cry from the two rebounds and one point he averaged in his first three years.
"I'm playing my best basketball since I've been here," said Ford, who admits he was a lot of the reason he didn't play more in the past.
"Obviously, I wanted to play more," he said. "But I understood I was playing behind three guys (Trey Guidry, Gregg Alexander and Vince Greene) who scored over 1,000 points in their careers. And if I had played better, I probably would have played more."
Ford was determined to make sure this year wasn't going to be like his first three years.
"Before the season I looked at my role as providing leadership, scoring a few more points, defending and rebounding well from the guard spot," said Ford.
But he never expected to also be cast into the role of energy source for the Redbirds.
"Being a senior and having played under Coach (Porter) Moser for two seasons, I knew he was really big on energy. But to be honest, I wasn't really looking at me in that role," added Ford. "It never really crossed my mind until I had a few bad practices this year.
"Coach called me aside one day and pointed out that my energy level was dictating how we were practicing as a team. That's when he put the role on me to provide energy every day. Now, my main focus is to provide an enormous amount of energy in practice and games."
Ford has done just that.
If he keeps up his current pace in rebounds and steals, Ford has a chance to become the shortest player to lead ISU in rebounding since the school moved to the Division I ranks in 1970. He also would eclipse Todd Starks' single-season record of 61 steals.
"Dana has really grown as a player this year," said Moser. "He came in with probably the best focus he ever has. He was one of the top guys in terms of focus every day in practice the first five weeks.
"He was shooting the ball probably the best of anyone on the team, but then he didn't shoot it well in the Red-White scrimmage and he got so down. The same thing happened in the exhibition game and his lip dropped even more.
"I pulled him aside and told him if he thought shooting was his No. 1 role on this team, then he was mistaken. And I told him if he was going to let his shooting get him down, then he was going to have a long senior season."
Moser also explained to him that his job was to provide energy.
"I told him whether his shot was falling or not, that with a young, inexperienced team like we have, his role was to provide us with a belief that we can win and an energy during the down times," Moser continued. "Since that time, his body language has changed.
"He's excited about playing defense. He's excited when he's on the bench. That's one huge step for Dana Ford. I'm actually glad he got in that little funk because he took our talk to heart. I'm really excited about how he has responded."
Moser also said poor shooting nights don't seem to affect other areas of Ford's game now.
"When his shot isn't falling, he's doing other things to help us," added Moser. "He's doing it on the defensive end and providing energy and leadership. He knows this is his opportunity to really get some quality minutes. The difference in the way he practices day-in and day-out is night and day."
Ford will be the first to admit he wasn't always a good defensive player.
"The (lack of) competition I faced in high school tended to make me play kind of lax," said Ford, who played at Class A Tamms Egyptian High School near Carbondale.
"That carried over to my college career. Once I picked up my intensity level and energy and passion, I think I've become a pretty good defender."
Another hurdle Ford had to overcome was feeling like Moser didn't want him in his program. The ISU coach arrived on the scene after Ford's freshman season.
"It took a long time to get over the thought of not knowing if Coach wanted me because of some of the things that happened to some other players and because he didn't recruit me," said Ford. "The beginning of last year I finally felt he wanted me as part of the program.
"Coach has given me multiple opportunities to perform and that helps. I decided I had to try and take my game to another level."
Teammate Ronnie Carlwell said Ford is a new guy this year.
"He's really playing well," added Carlwell. "He's blossoming and you can't get him to shut up now. He was the quietest guy on the team when I met him. Now you can't get him to stop talking."
Ford, who also considered Southern Illinois and Evansville before selecting ISU, never thought about transferring or quitting despite his uneasy feelings the first year under Moser.
"Despite all the things that went on — losing a coach (Tom Richardson) who recruited me and losing roommates and teammates (Marcus Arnold and Chris Burras) — I never thought about leaving," said Ford.
"For one thing, my family would never let me quit. My grandmother (Mary Ford, who raised Ford nearly his entire life after his family moved from Tamms) is really big on not quitting. She has lived a tough life and she's never quit, so why would I quit when things got tough for me?"
Major: Political science
Favorite food: Fried chicken
Favorite music: Gospel, rhythm and blues, a little rap
Favorite artist: Doesn't really have one
Favorite player: Michael Jordan
Favorite drink: Lemonade
Biggest influence: Both my grandmothers
Person he most admires: My family
Person he'd most like to meet: His grandfather, James Ford, who died before Dana was born
Greatest basketball experience: Winning school's only regional title his senior year
Superstitions: Doesn't talk to anyone before a game