Players shocked Ford is no longer their coach

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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When teammates Tony Gaffney and Luke Bonner first heard it, they thought it was a joke.

It wasn’t.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball players thought the courtship of their coach, Travis Ford, was over. But less than a week after Ford turned down the job offer at Providence and agreed verbally to an extension at UMass, he is officially gone for good – off to Oklahoma State.

“I had no idea,” Bonner said. “I got a text [message]; someone told me they read something on and I didn’t quite believe it. But then it turned out to be true, obviously.”

Added Gaffney: “Ricky Harris came to me and said, ‘Tony, did you hear the news? Coach Ford is leaving.’ I said, ‘get out of here;’ I thought he was messing with me.”

Gaffney and Bonner were the only players made available last night by the athletic department during the press conference announcing Ford’s departure. Both players mentioned numerous times that they understood college basketball was a business and that the players and program will move on without him.

But that didn’t totally stop the players from feeling the sting of losing Ford, especially after he had re-committed to staying on as coach after turning down Providence.

“We thought this was put to rest,” Gaffney said. “Guys are obviously disappointed; we all had great relationships with him.”

“It might be something that could bring us more together,” Bonner said. “But I’m not going to be naive and say it couldn’t be a dividing factor.”

Bonner mentioned that this all happened so fast, and he won’t know for a while how he feels. One of the last things he wanted to do was talk to the press about it.

“We were on our way here, and our heads were spinning, like, ‘what do we say to these people?'” Bonner said. “It doesn’t seem real yet. I still think we have [practice] on Monday and coach Ford is going to be there.”

Both players stopped short of saying they felt betrayed by Ford. Gaffney said that Ford was “offered something that was nearly impossible to turn down.” Bonner addressed how tough this was on the team, but he said everyone understood that he “had to do what he had to do.”

Both Gaffney and Bonner transferred to UMass and will be seniors next season. As college basketball veterans, they were more worried about how this would affect the younger guys on the team.

“A lot of the freshmen went here because of him; so for them, it’s tough,” Gaffney said. “As older guys, we’re going to be there for them. We’re going to stick together as a team and get through it, and we’re going to win this year.”

Gaffney said he could relate to some of the things they’re going through.

“He was the reason I came here,” he said, referring to his decision to transfer from Boston University. “But at the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me. With that said, I’m looking forward to meeting the new coach and getting things going.”

Bonner’s outlook heading into college has helped him deal with the rather shocking turn of events.

“One thing I’ve learned through the years is that you commit more to a university than to a coach, because there are these constant changes every year,” he said. “We really enjoy being students at UMass; and even though coach is gone, we’re very happy to be on campus here.”

Gaffney felt the same way and said that this team is tough enough to handle anything.

“Midway through the season we got wristbands that say ’17 strong’ on them. And it stands for the 17 players that are on the roster,” he said. “We stick together no matter what.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]