Every summer I get a kick out of meeting with two superstar Trojan student athletes from the basketball programs. They stop by my office to thank me for supporting their teams.
Athletic Director Chris Peterson, men’s head coach Steve Shields, and women’s head coach Joe Foley choose one player from each team to intern as program ambassadors. Their summer job is to thank supporters and get them revved up for the upcoming season.
This year’s ambassadors are Taylor Ford, the quick and very physical 5-9 point guard (known for her game-winning shot against Middle Tennessee) from Columbia, Mo., and Will Neighbor, the sharp-shooting 6-10 guy with a funny accent, a junior forward (leading shooter last season before a shoulder injury now on the mend) from Grayshott, England.
When they come see me, Will and Taylor have to endure an interview, a professional habit.
Big things first. Are we going to go to the NCAA tournament again this year? Yes and yes. Just takes hard work and getting the talented new recruits in sync with the program.
Why UALR? Taylor: The women had been to the NCAA tournament, and the program was on the rise, standing out from the rest. Will: Coach Cunningham was relentless, recruiting him in high school. He didn’t consider anywhere else. Both: The Stephens arena is an awesome second home.
Any inside scoop on your coaches? Will: You get 100 percent from Coach Shields every day. He gives the team a chance in every game. Coach Kleine will take a call in the middle of the night and come to the gym to help with whatever you need. Taylor: Coach Foley, the most hard-working coach I know, will be here from 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning watching film. (No trash; what do you expect from ambassadors?)
What do you do for fun? Both: watch a lot of movies. Taylor has 200-plus DVDs and Will mooches them. Neither claims to be a party animal. (Must be the long hours of being a student athlete.)
What do you miss most about being away from home? Will: Misses his Mum, his brother, his grandmother’s cooking, and mounds of chocolate. (The U.S. doesn’t have good chocolate.) Taylor: Getting to watch Mizzou football games. (Her dad is Mizzou’s defensive coach.)
What happens when you graduate? Will, criminal justice major: NBA hopeful. Fallback, playing in Europe or teaching/coaching. Taylor, health science and studio art major: WNBA hopeful. Fallback, being a nutritionist or weight trainer.
What about the fans? Love ‘em, but hope to see even more this season. They make a difference in our performance.
You don’t want to miss seeing Will and Taylor and the other Trojan basketball stars in action this season. I too predict another big year for Trojan basketball. Get your season, group, or individual tickets now.