Brothers Geno and Dustin Ford gave each other no favors while growing up in Cambridge, Ohio, a manufacturing town with blue-collar roots. Those backyard basketball games were more like wrestling matches.
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CHAMPAIGN -- Brothers Geno and Dustin Ford gave each other no favors while growing up in Cambridge, Ohio, a manufacturing town with blue-collar roots.
Those backyard basketball games were more like wrestling matches.
"We'd go outside and play, and WWF got nothing on our outdoor games,'' said Gene Ford, their father who won 400 games in 26 years as Cambridge High School basketball coach before taking over at nearby Muskingum University, a Division III program.
By the time Geno was an Ohio University senior guard and Dustin a redshirting Ohio freshman, coach Larry Hunter learned a lesson. During a walk-through one Saturday morning, just when Hunter had his back turned, all hell broke loose.
"The two Ford boys are swinging haymakers at each other and really going at it,'' Hunter said. "We had to be careful about letting them go against each other.''
Former teammates and past rivals at Mid-American Conference programs, the Ford brothers relocated to the state of Illinois. Geno just finished his first season as the Bradley coach. Dustin is a little more than a month into his tenure as an Illinois assistant coach. Now that they're no longer sharing the same league or the same uniform, the Ford brothers act like they'll play nice.
"I don't know if there's ever been a Bradley coach in history that's been a huge Illini fan, but I'll probably be the first,'' Geno said.
The Fords also have a younger brother, Ryan, a scratch golfer. But the older two brothers, this is a transition.
"Anything we do is hard to do together,'' Dustin said. "When we play golf, we're arguing about something after three holes.''
Geno, 37, trail-blazed as the oldest son. The guard was Ohio's Mr. Basketball after averaging 35.9 points a game as a senior under his father at Cambridge High School. Listed at 5-foot-8 but probably closer to 5-7 or so, Geno is third in state prep history with 2,680 career points, 34 ahead of NBA superstar LeBron James.
"I was older than Dustin, but I never let the foot off the pedal,'' Geno said. "That's not fair, but I wasn't a nice guy.''
He is fifth all-time in scoring at Ohio University with 1,752 points. After a year of pro basketball in England, he jumped into college coaching.
"Geno was a silent assassin,'' his father said. "You look at him, and he should be lighting candles in church.''
Dustin, 33, was a little taller, something like 5-10, and heavier but didn't have his brother's scoring ability. He was tougher -- and tougher on his dad.
"He just tormented his dad every chance he got, always just challenging you,'' Gene said.
Dustin wasn't Mr. Basketball like Geno, but Dustin twice reached the Ohio prep state basketball finals (one more than his brother) and played in the state title game. After Geno started four years at Ohio U., Dustin took over the spot the next four seasons and scored 869 points. In four years as Jackson (Ohio) coach, Dustin led the team to its best conference finish in a decade.
"He worked his way up the hard way,'' Geno said. "He took an awful high school job and won a bunch. He clawed his way to the DI thing. I was more silver-spooned.''
The sibling rivalry didn't end when their playing days ended. Soon, Geno was the head coach at Kent State, while Dustin had returned to Ohio as an assistant. One intense meeting came in the MAC Tournament in 2010, with Kent State the league's regular-season champ and Ohio seeded ninth. Ohio won the game, captured the tourney title and defeated Georgetown in the NCAAs.
"When he was at Kent, there was nobody I wanted to beat more than Geno,'' Dustin said. "When we weren't playing them and it didn't affect us, I'd pull for him.''
With Geno now working in the Missouri Valley and Dustin in the Big Ten, they will see less of each other, except for a family outing. There's no reason to scout the other guy or to hold back as many recruiting secrets.
"When we were in the same league, it was harder to share stuff,'' Dustin said. "During the season, rarely did we talk to each other.
"In the offseason when we have down time, our families can get together. We're close (geographically) for the first time and not competing against each other. We can be around each other, actually talk basketball and talk a little recruiting.''
Geno looked forward to spending time with the Illini staff, swapping ideas and perhaps laying the groundwork to get a game with the Illini.
"I would play them if they'd be willing to do it,'' Geno said. "From my standpoint, it's a great game.''
If that ever happens, just get out of their way. The Ford brothers don't always play nice.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.