LAS VEGAS — The blue shooting sleeve on, check. The purple and gold Nike Kobe’s laced up, check. The No. 60 Orlando Magic jersey neatly tucked in, check. OK, Aleem Ford is ready to ball.
The former Wisconsin Badgers forward just wrapped up his first NBA Summer League. All eyes were on Ford and his Magic squad right from the get-go with the addition of No. 1 overall 2022 NBA draft pick Paolo Banchero.
“Great player, has great size, poise,” said Ford on Banchero. “He can do a lot of things on the floor and most importantly, I think he’s a great kid. He has a great personality, he’s willing to learn and that mentality can take you a long way. Outside the skillset and all the God-given talent and size and all that, having that mentality to learn and the mentality to work … In just the short amount I’ve spent with him that’s something I’ve noticed.”
Ford averaged 5.0 points per game in the Summer League. His shot wasn’t always falling in the three games he played, but it certainly didn’t stop him from attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 100%.
“See where the game takes me. That’s the biggest thing, just being in the moment and trying to make the most of it. Out of each day,” Ford said. “Learning from today and getting back in the gym tomorrow and watching some film on my shot and correcting some things that I probably could have done better with my form. Building on that and on to the next game.”
Last year Ford played in 31 games for the Lakeland Magic, the Orlando Magic’s G League affiliate. There he averaged 12.5 points while shooting 38.7% from 3-point line.
Wait, wait, wait.
Respectfully, Ford averaged just 8.6 points as a junior at Wisconsin, then slightly increased it to 8.7 points as a senior -- now is averaging 12.5 points at the professional level? How is the 24-year-old continuing to elevate his game?
“I learn as much as I can,” Ford said. “I went to Puerto Rico (Leones de Ponce) after Wisconsin and I was able to learn a lot there, about the professional lifestyle and how to approach the game. Then going onto Lakeland, I just continued to develop on and off the court. And that’s what I’m trying to do out here at Summer League right now as I go into my second year professionally.”
Last season in the midst of his Lakeland Magic season, Ford got the opportunity that every G-Leaguer strives for: He got the call-up to play five games in the NBA. Orlando called him up for a 10-day stretch at the end of December and Ford scored his first NBA basket against the Miami Heat but didn’t even realize the monumental experience it until afterwards.
“I didn’t really think about it until after because that’s how fast everything happened,” said Ford. “I got in the tubs after the game and was able to sit down and appreciate the moment. Everyone was reaching out, wishing me kind words and that’s when I was like, ‘wow’.
“I was just able to go out there and get some reps. Which could take me a long way and learn from those reps and helped me as I went back into the G League. Being up there for that amount of time and being able to ask questions and be hands-on right there helped me a lot.”
The Badgers were well represented at the NBA Summer League. In addition to Ford, there were four other Wisconsin alumni participating (Vitto Brown, Johnny Davis, Micah Potter, Nate Reuvers) and three of them were former teammates of Ford’s. Ford said that was one of his favorite parts of his summer experience.
“Getting out here and being able to play some games and being able to connect with some of my guys,” he said. “Some of my old teammates, some guys I played a lot throughout college and high school circuit and everything like that. Micah is out there right now (Ford pointed at the court proudly).
“We’re continuing to grow, mature and take our game to the next level really. Use what we learned throughout high school and college to catapult us into our professional career. Keep hanging out with them, keep building those relationships, because we’re on this journey together really. I definitely feel like we could use each other as a resource.”