Neiman Ford realized basketball had no gender. Then he took the Pantherettes to State.


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SAN ANTONIO -- Saturday night was Neiman Ford's fifth time in the Alamodome for the basketball state championships. It was his first time coaching the Duncanville Pantherettes. The previous four were as an assistant on the Duncanville men's team.

Ford assumed the head job amid a whirlwind of program sanctions. The UIL banned former Pantherettes head coach LaJeanna Howard in October 2022 for one year and barred Duncanville from competing in the postseason for holding an open tryout in the summer. That same day, men's head coach David Peavy was given a one-year suspension and Duncanville's boy's 2022 Class 6A State Championship was stripped for use of an ineligible player. Ford served as the interim men's head coach for the 2022-23 school year, led the team to a 28–1 record before a self-imposed playoff ban, and then took the Pantherettes head coaching job for the 2023-24 year.   

"When I walked into the gym, what I realized is, 'Basketball doesn't have a gender on it,'" Ford said. "If you can coach basketball, if you can play basketball, it's worldwide. It's global. It doesn't have a gender. I just want to prove to everybody I'm a basketball coach whether it be men or women."

The Pantherettes 59-41 over South Grand Prairie in the Class 6A State Championship did just that.

South Grand Prairie nursed an 18-17 lead into halftime despite competing without injured center Erica Carr and four-star Texas A&M signee Taliyah Parker playing limited minutes due to foul trouble. Duncanville shot 4-for-17 from the field, including 0-for-7 from three-point range. 

But Ford's halftime message was simple. The Pantherettes could press South Grand Prairie all day, with waves of reinforcements who wouldn't surrender an inch. Despite not having a player standing over 5-foot-10, Ford knew in the Alamodome the rebounds tended to bounce long, so it only mattered who was quickest to the ball. Duncanville ended the game with a 38-21 rebounding advantage.  

 "Sometimes it's not the skill of the woman, but it's the will of the woman that's going to get you through in the tough times, when the teams are evenly matched," Ford said.

Senior guard Mariah Clayton displayed her will with 15 second-half points, earning the game's MVP. Junior guard Laila Coleman drilled two three-pointers in the third quarter to open up Duncanville's lead. Ford attributed Duncanville's surge to the school's illustrious athletic program, where winning state has become the expectation and not just a dream.

"Because of the program, the kids in Duncanville, no matter the sport, no matter what we're doing, they've got a will to win," Ford said.

But even with the numerous state championships, including 11 for the girl's basketball team, Ford's squad entered Saturday night on a four-year state tournament drought and coming off a postseason ban. Postgame with the trophy, he was asked if Duncanville girl's basketball was back?

"It never died," Ford said. "We walk into the gym and we look at 11 banners every day. We were looking for 12."

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