By: Tim Haran -
It all started with a pair of shoes. The style of the footwear isn't necessarily important, but Ami Forney remembers them being Air Jordans.
That's the deal Forney's father struck with her when she was in the seventh grade: If she quit soccer to play basketball, she got the shoes.
"I was a lot taller than all the other kids," Forney says of her six-foot junior high frame. "Back then, everyone would just throw the ball off the backboard and I'd get the rebound. I wasn't very good, but I was taller than everybody else."
Now at 6-2, the Cal junior has developed her coordination, improved her ball handling skills, is an intimidating force on the court and still gets her share of rebounds.
Not bad for someone who warmed-or rather, attempted to warm-the Cal bench her freshman year.
"It was awful," Forney says of her limited playing time back when Cal called Oakland's frigid Henry J. Kaiser Arena home. "It was the coldest arena and I used to freeze on the bench every game."
Maybe that helped her to realize her basketball potential at the collegiate level. If anything, it made her work harder to get more playing time. In fact, Forney's goal in everything she does is to prove to people that she can do what they believe she can't.
"I'm very persistent," she says. "When I want something, I go after it really hard to get it. I don't like to fail."
That could explain the extra push Forney gave herself to graduate from Cal with a degree in sociology after just three years. Or why she's tackling 20 units this semester while devoting several hours a week to basketball. She will, however, return next season to finish her four years of eligibility on the court. She has to, the academic-minded athlete needs to complete her other major, social welfare.
On the court, Forney says she's advanced athletically since her days planted at the end of Cal's bench and is no longer the worst player on the team. No, she's moved up. "I'm right in the middle now," she says.
Following Forney's showing at the Oakland Tribune Classic last week, she might have moved up a few more slots. First year Cal coach Caren Horstmeyer said the talented center is an integral part of the Bears' team.
"She's hungry and she wants the ball," Horstmeyer said after Forney's 14-rebound, 9-point performance against Florida International University. "She's playing with confidence. She's showing some different moves, hitting her shots and is doing very well off the boards."
The number of boards she pulls down, Forney says, is how she wants to be measured. She set a goal to average 10 rebounds per game this season, up from her 5.1 average last season.
Growing up near Cal in Newark, Calif., Forney remains close with her family. It's comforting for her to know that they watch her every move on the court. "Until I find them in the stands, I'm really not calm," Forney says.
As for the team, Forney says Cal's defense is stronger than it was last year and the team is much more confident in its offense. "When you put those two things together, it's going to result in us winning more ball games," she says.
When not playing basketball or racing to class, Forney spends time at the Berkeley Marina where she watches the water to help her relax. She is also a photographer who enjoys taking pictures of children because "they're not afraid to be who they truly are."
After fully recovering from a stress fracture in her left foot midway through last season, Forney has been key to Cal's solid play early in the year. Still, she understands what the team is capable of achieving and what it will take of each player to realize those goals.
"We need to play to our full potential," Forney says. "We have so much talent on the team that it's disappointing when we don't play as well as I know we could. Our goal is to be as good as we can be by the end of the season and if we do that, I know we'll make the NCAA tournament."
When Forney finishes her basketball career at Cal, she hopes that she'll be remembered as a player who worked hard, left everything out on the court and was always respectful of her teammates and coaches.
Considering the determination Forney exhibits on the court, it's easy to tell that she hasn't regretted choosing basketball over soccer.
"I'll leave soccer to the little people," she says, remembering that she used to get knocked in the ribs a lot by shorter players when she battled for the ball. "I wouldn't have gone very far in that sport anyway. I would have been stuck as goalie."
And goalies don't get to wear Air Jordans.