Aug. 12, 2008
By Jack Wilkinson
Following is the third in a series of profiles on the members of the 2008 class of the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Jack Wilkinson will catch up with each of the six members in the weeks leading up to the Annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, which will be Sept. 19 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased by calling 404-894-6124.
All these years later, long after Agnus Berenato first sat on a couch in a Baltimore row house and made her recruiting pitch, a decade since Kisha Ford last stopped and popped and did her school and herself proud, coach and player are rejoicing together anew.
“I’m so excited about Kisha and proud of her,” Tech’s former head coach said. “She’s probably one of the most illustrious student-athletes Georgia Tech has ever had.”
“When I got the call,” Ford recalled, “I said, `What? Really?!’ I just had chills, goose bumps. I’m getting them again just talking about it.
“I was hoping one day they would call,” she said. “I didn’t know if they would. But when they did, I was so excited, and blessed.”
For Georgia Tech, the feeling was – and remains – mutual. Well after four seasons of incomparable basketball excitement, a period of personal growth and academic achievement, too, Kisha Ford will take her rightful place in the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Ford, who excelled on the Flats from 1993-97, became a three-time All-ACC selection and the first Yellow Jacket drafted by the WNBA, and remains Tech’s career leader in points (1,955), steals (278) and minutes played (3,823). You could look it up, right there in the Tech record book, where the words “Kisha” and “Ford” are still everywhere – precisely where she was on the court when she starred for Berenato.
“I am ecstatic, just ECSTATIC,” said Berenato, for whom Ford played and who now coaches at Pitt. “I’m just sorry I can’t be there.”
Berenato won’t be at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center the night of Sept. 19, for this year’s Hall of Fame induction dinner. She’ll be back on the Pitt campus, hosting four coveted recruits. If Berenato’s blessed with good fortune, perhaps one of them may even turn out to be another Kisha Ford.
“My God, she was good,” Berenato said. “A quick, quick athlete. She could take it to the hole, and then stop on a dime, stop and pop. The big thing about Kisha was, she wanted to go to a great school.
“I remember her mom, Leah, was a young mother with a big smile,” she said. “I sat in their row house, and Kisha told me she wanted to go into engineering. I told her, `I don’t know if I can get you into school in engineering.’ Kisha told me that was one of the reasons she came to Georgia Tech, because I was one of the ones [coaches] that were honest with her.”
“Agnus came for my in-house visit and blew me away,” Ford recalled. “She presented Georgia Tech and the basketball program as a family. And she was going to be my second mom. Professionally, afterward, she wanted her players to come to school and be successful later on.
“I wanted to go somewhere and be groomed,” she continued. “You’re 17, you’re going away from home, you have things you can get in trouble with, and…”
And it helps to have a coach who can teach you to D-up and grow up. “I was always on Kisha. ALWAYS,” Berenato said. “Her first couple of years, she was a blue-chip recruit and was really good [an ACC All-Freshman choice], but she was kind of on cruise control. I said, `C’mon, Kish, you’ve gotta bust out. You’ve gotta bust out of your shell.’
“One time, she was very upset because I was always on her business,” she said. “In her face. I said, `I don’t care about points and rebounds. I care about you as a person.’ By the time of her senior year, she was not only a helluva player but a helluva person.”
If not a helluva, helluvan engineer. Ford majored in management and earned her degree in 1997, and also received Georgia Tech’s Total Person Award, annually given to one male and one female athlete recognizing excellence both on the court and in the classroom.
By then, she’d long made her mark. As a freshman, “I was 140-something pounds,” Ford recalled. She had to build up her strength, and did. Still, “the competition was incredible my first year.” Especially in the ACC, and especially against North Carolina, which won the national championship. That season, Ford scored 41 points against East Tennessee State.
As a sophomore, Ford became the first Yellow Jacket and just the fourth ACC player to post a triple-double. “Probably one of my biggest accomplishments,” said Ford, who torched Georgia State for 33 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, and was named second-team All-ACC that season. She later repeated as a second-team All-ACC choice as a junior, the first of her two seasons as Tech’s captain.
Ford’s senior season on the Flats was sensational. She was the most valuable player of Tech’s holiday tournament that winter after a 35-point, 12-rebound performance against Manhattan. She also took a career-high 21 rebounds versus Mercer.
In mid-February of that season, Ford was named the ACC Player of the Week after a stunning trifecta: She averaged 26 points and eight rebounds in consecutive victories over Florida State, Virginia and Wake Forest. Ford also became Georgia Tech’s all-time leading scorer while scoring 32 points against Duke.
By season’s end, she was a first-team All-ACC selection, and an honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press and Kodak. Only one thing was lacking on her resume.
“The greatest disappointment I ever had was we just couldn’t get to the NCAA Tournament,” said Berenato. “I couldn’t get Kisha to the NCAA’s.”
“My biggest disappointment,” Ford said, “was not being able to get my teammates to the NCAA Tournament.” Instead, she became the first Tech player drafted by the WNBA, chosen by the New York Liberty. “It was great. The competition was incredible,” said Ford, who later played for the Miami Sol and Orlando Miracle. She also played two years professionally in Sweden.
While in the WNBA, Ford completed work on a master’s degree in Healthcare and International Business from Baker College in 2001. She also served as an assistant to Berenato in the 2001-02 season. Ford spent 2006-07 working as a forensic accountant for the firm of KPMG in Atlanta while working on an MBA in accounting at Baker College. She completed her MBA in 2007, coached women’s basketball at Lane College in Tennessee for a season and is now a senior police officer for the DeKalb County Police Department.
And at age 33, forever a member of the ACC’s 50th anniversary women’s basketball team, Kisha Ford will soon be enshrined in Georgia Tech’s Hall of Fame. “Tech basketball was great to me,” Ford said. “My career there was really, really great.”