A Drake star of yesteryear, profiled.
No one in the history of NCAA Division I women’s basketball has rebounded with consistency quite like Wanda Ford. Hard to believe, but her historic career in Des Moines nearly didn’t happen.
Flipping through the record books, there is a long list of players with over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, including a growing list of those who have surpassed 3,000 points. But refine the 2,000-point scorers to just those with at least 1,500 rebounds, and the list shrinks considerably.
You’ll see legends like Patricia Hoskins, Cheryl Miller, Sylvia Fowles, and Courtney Paris, but from that list, second only to Paris is Wanda Ford, the Drake standout from the mid-1980s.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Ford starred at East Tech High School all the way to an AP 1981 Class AAA All-Ohio honorable mention before earning first-team honors as a senior.
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Without a scholarship offer, she was planning to attend junior college. It was then that an All-Star game brought Drake assistant coach Bruce Mason out to Ohio. Ford wasn’t on his list on the trip there, but by the time he was on his way back to Iowa, she had an offer to play for the Bulldogs.
This was no slouch of a program, either. Under head coach Carole Baumgarten, Drake had six consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins starting with the 1976-1977 campaign. Their best finish came in 1982 when prolific scorer Lorri Bauman led the Bulldogs to a 28-7 record and an Elite Eight finish.
Before Ford’s freshman season, Drake joined the new Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference, the women-only predecessor to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Averaging 16.1 points on 60.6% from the field and 13.1 rebounds over 28 games, Ford was a conference first-team selection as a rookie, and the team finished 20-8, a seventh straight season with at least 20 wins.
As would become a trend, Ford’s numbers went up in her sophomore season, up to 18.6 points and 14.1 rebounds per game. She shot a career best 62.2% from the field and 74.4% from the free throw line. With a 22-7 overall record and a Gateway-best 16-2 finish, Drake made their way back to the NCAA Tournament, ending the season with a loss in the first round.
With Bauman graduating as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, the following season could be seen as a challenge for Ford and the Bulldogs.
Instead, Ford stepped up her game several notches, leading her team to two more wins overall (24-6) and matching their conference record from the previous season, ultimately finishing in the WNIT Semifinals.
It’s clear to see why: Ford took a leap up to 24.2 points and 17.8 rebounds per game, entering both the 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound clubs. Her efforts earned her Gateway MVP honors for the season and a nod as a finalist for the Wade Trophy.
Ford’s 17.8 rebounds per game is still second all-time, and the 534-rebound total remains good for fifth. That includes a 30-rebound performance on February 16, 1985, against Eastern Illinois, among the top 10 Division I rebounding games.
Then came her historic senior season.
In the 1985-1986 season, the Bulldogs’ overall record took a minor dip to 22-8, but it was still good enough to get them back to the NCAA Tournament, including a win in the First Round.
Ford led the way. She had her best year on offense, scoring 919 points, then a single-season record. Her 30.6 points per game that year is still the sixth-best such season. A big piece of that was her performance against Missouri State on February 22, 1986, when she dropped 54 points. At the time, it was second only to her former teammate Bauman’s 58-point game two years earlier.
Once again Ford was the Gateway MVP and a Wade Trophy finalist, and she was named a Kodak All-American in her final year.
Out of college, Ford went on to a 16-year professional career, playing multiple years each in Brazil, Italy, France, Sweden, and Israel. Unfortunately, professional leagues returned stateside late in her playing career, but her mark on the record books remains in the NCAA.
She has the two top rebounding seasons, both by total and average, in Drake women’s basketball history, and that includes eight of the program’s top 10 rebounding games.
The Gateway merged in to the MVC in the early 1990s, and Ford’s time in Iowa earned her a spot in the MVC Hall of Fame in 2001. In the 2006-2007 season, she was also named to the MVC All-Centennial women’s basketball team.
Her standing as one of the game’s most prolific rebounders is undoubtable; her 1,815 rebounds is second only to Courtney Paris (2,034), but her rebounding average of 15.5 is still an NCAA Division I record among players with at least 800 total.
In an all-too-forgotten era of women’s basketball, Wanda Ford left her mark in a manner that decades later still stands at the top. Ultimately, her coach, Carole Baumgarten, put it best when she summed her up as a “once-in-a-lifetime player.”