Ford's a diamond in the rough, just like Mitchell

New London

All Todd Peretz really had to do was walk across campus. True story. Some nothing weekday in the spring a few years ago. And there's Peretz, the basketball coach at Mitchell College, perhaps enjoying the scenery of the campus' emerging greenery.

Then it happened.

The basketball program changed.

Because Todd Peretz was watching a flag football game.

"I thought 'Who is this kid?'" Peretz said. "He looks like he should be playing on Sundays."

Turns out "this kid" has become The Man for the Mariners on Montauk. If you haven't seen Joshua Ford play, consider yourself lucky there is some season left. He's the senior forward at Mitchell with the Barkley build (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and commensurate numbers: 22.4 points and 12.8 rebounds per game for the first-place team in the New England Collegiate Conference.

"You blow through a recruiting budget and kids don't pan out," Peretz was saying. "And one kid just falls into your lap. You could say that for a lot of our kids here right now. Everyone has a story."

This is Joshua Ford's: He's a Jersey City kid, a product of St. Anthony's, where he most certainly did not play basketball for the great Bob Hurley. Ford was a football player (tight end, receiver, defensive end) and a baseball player (pitcher/shortstop). That's all you need to know about Ford's athleticism. Most power forwards would pop hamstrings and groins at painful intervals if they had to morph into shortstops.

So how does this specimen find his way from Jersey City to Montauk Ave.?

"My mom picked this school for me," Ford said. "When I visited, I thought it was a good fit. Very welcoming. I came here for academics."

Peretz: "The credit has to go to his mom. She wanted a spot for him in a small-school environment. She's the one who did all the research to send her son here where there are a lot of support systems in place."

Still, though, how does a coach not hyperventilate at the sight of a kid whose surname is entirely appropriate, given that he's built like an F-150?

"Coach gave me space," Ford said. "One day, like a Wednesday afternoon, we had an open gym here and I admit, I was killing it. He asked me to try out."

Ford spent the summer of his freshman year with mentor and St. Anthony's assistant coach Ed Malloy. He's been the backbone of the program since.

"Very skilled. A phenomenal athlete," Peretz said. "He could probably pick up a tennis racket and do well. He was never really tainted. He didn't come in here like he knew everything. Always a listen, listen, listen type kid. I've never had to say anything to him twice."

Ford, too, hasn't merely embraced the college, but the city as well. He's the basketball coach, physical education teacher and a math tutor at Solomon Schechter Academy near campus. And he may hang around for a while. Ford, a senior, has another year of basketball eligibility remaining. He plans to return to Mitchell next year to further his education as a sports management and outdoor recreation major.

Peretz alluded to basketball when he said that sometimes his players become the best recruiters. Joshua Ford's story alone could be a recruiter for the entire college. Come to Mitchell, where the small class sizes and support systems all but guarantee success for anybody who wants it. Come to Mitchell, where you can compete for a trip to the NCAA Division III tournament.

This kid isn't merely the face of the program. He only the best representative of the entire school.

"My first year we won five games," Ford said. "Then coach did some heavy recruiting."

With a walk across campus.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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