Graduated UB Bulls Will Regan and Xavier Ford form unexpected bond

Basketball shaped unlikely friendship of Ford and Regan

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A four-year unexpected friendship was cemented with a single fist bump.

The Buffalo men’s basketball team gathered in Alumni Arena in front of friends, family and fans to celebrate its run to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history on March 24.

Among the players and coaches were now graduated forwards Xavier Ford and Will Regan. Whenever Ford was addressed with a question, he would answer it, then lean over to Regan and say, “We’re Mid-American Conference champs, and no one can take that away from us,” and finish with a gentle fist bump.

Regan and Ford were two of the Buffalo’s instrumental components in the 2014-15 season and have been as equally influential in their four-plus years in Buffalo, on and off the court. Regan and Ford were brought up from completely different dynamics and they acknowledge it.

But both Regan and Ford said they believe this unexpected friendship will be a lifelong alliance.

“[Xavier] and I, we know that we come from completely different backgrounds, but we respect each other for that,” Regan said. “X came from a situation where most people don’t go to college and he made it out of the projects of Colorado Springs to graduate in four years … I come from a background where both of my parents raised me and they instilled discipline … We were able to achieve our goals and become friends throughout the process and put aside our differences for a common goal.”

Before the success, championships and fist bumps, Ford and Regan weren’t friends upon their first encounter. Ford admits he didn’t like Regan the first time they met.

Ford was raised by his grandparents in Colorado Springs, Colorado, an area notorious for crime and drugs. Ford described his hometown as “typical inner city, with a lot of drugs and nonsense.” He says not many people make it out of his sector of Colorado Springs to pursue a college career or “to make something of themselves.”

Regan is a born-and-bred Buffalonian raised by both of his parents. He attended a private high school – Nichols – with aspirations of becoming a businessman.

“Me and Will come from completely different backgrounds,” Ford said. “I didn’t really like him when I first met him. I just didn’t. But he’s a good guy.”

But their backgrounds didn’t matter once they both suited up and headed on to the court countless times in their careers. Regan has always had a “competitive nature” in his life, ranging from when he played as an adolescent to his final day as a Bull.

And if it weren’t for that competitive mentality, he may not have been a Bull at all.

Regan initially began his college career at the University of Virginia but played sparingly in his time with the Cavaliers. He wanted to impact the team he played on, not warm the bench.

Regan finished his Virginia career with 25 points and 18 rebounds over 20 games played, mainly as a role player who accumulated most of his minutes toward the end of games.

He wanted more than that.

At the end of his freshman season, Regan transferred to Buffalo. He knew he was able to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), but he wasn’t close with many players on the Cavaliers and wanted an opportunity to represent the team he grew up watching. Due to NCAA ruling, Regan was forced to sit out the 2011-12 season, but was finally able to suit up again for the start of the 2012-13 season.

“It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was emotional just to get back on to a court,” Regan said. “I played decent amount of minutes as a freshman in the ACC. There’s a lot of Jahlil Okafors in the world who play every minute of every game, but there are also players who don’t play at all.”

According to Ford, Regan’s virtuous work ethic was evident during their freshman season and continued to be through their final game as a member of the Bulls. Regan said he would normally be the first to get to practice and one of the last to leave. He also would wake up early to work on parts of his game he thought needed improvement.

“[Regan] works hard,” Ford said. “Not a lot of people understand how hard he works. He’s a great student. He’ll be a great businessman one day.”

Over the course of four years, Regan and Ford were able to understand each other’s playing styles, work ethics and leadership abilities. Regan, however, said they each had different methods to lead the team.

Regan was a textbook leader. He would show the players on the team what to do during a certain play and preached about “the right thing to do.” Ford led by example. Ford understood each player could not follow everything he did, but he wanted people to approach things the way he did and take care of the necessary motions. They both conveyed the same message and were able to work off of each other, which was important for their run to the NCAA Tournament this past season.

“X and I have a mutual level of respect, but we go about things differently,” Regan said. “X got the nickname ‘Unc’ by the guys because a lot of the guys understand where he’s coming from and can relate to his perspective on situations. For me, I come from a different angle, but we backed each other up.”

It was this chemistry and leadership that presented Ford and Regan with an opportunity they both had waited for since becoming college basketball players: a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

“I came [to Buffalo] when the program was decent. We had a couple teams that I thought should have been MAC Tournament champions,” Ford said. “In my junior year, when Coach Hurley first got here, I thought we should have won it then. It was huge winning that championship. No one can ever take that away from us.”

In Buffalo’s 89-84 MAC Championship victory over Central Michigan to advance to the NCAA Tournament, Ford and Regan combined for 27 points and eight rebounds and embraced one another afterward. Ford was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, which is “something [he’ll] never forget.”

But it wasn’t his most memorable moment as a Bull.

With less than three minutes to play in Buffalo’s NCAA Tournament matchup against West Virginia, Ford hit a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 62. A crowd that was pulling for the Mountaineers for the majority of the game suddenly erupted when the shot went in.

“It was cool to see the environment and the crowd cheering you on,” Ford said. “This was a moment we talked about all season and a moment that coach Hurley described to us about getting to the NCAA Tournament. And just looking up and knowing my teammates were right there with me and we were all in the moment together. And we had fun doing it.”

For Regan, getting to the tournament was “surreal.” He dreamt about getting his childhood college team to March Madness. He said he will always enjoy going back to Alumni Arena to see the MAC Championship banner hung up, knowing he was part of the first team that made it.

For Ford, getting to the tournament was a testament to Colorado Springs. Whenever he was given the national spotlight, he always made it a point to pay homage to the members of his town who doubted him and for the others who need an inspiration to do bigger things in life.

“I know I made them proud by being consistent,” Ford said. “The people in my area feel good knowing someone like me can come out of there and do it the right way. They get happy seeing me do it the right way – going to school and remaining humble at the same time and being approachable to everyone.”

Both Regan and Ford now face the reality that their college basketball careers are over.

Regan said he plans on doing public accounting, then eventually own a business or be an executive in a business that will help restore economic prosperity and development in Buffalo. He wants to be part of the revitalization of his hometown, which has already begun downtown.

But Regan has not ruled out playing professional basketball overseas.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life,” Regan said. “It’s been one of the only constants in my life. I think I have a chance for my game to adapt to that level. My numbers weren’t that great the previous two years, but it’s about the system you play in and the people you’re with.”

Ford said he knows he is not done playing basketball just yet.

Ford has signed with A1 Sports Agency, which he hopes will propel him to his dream of playing professional basketball. Ford admits he will most likely end up playing overseas – possibly in Germany, Italy and Spain – but will also try out at NBA minicamps this summer for a potential NBA deal. Ford is unsure where he will end up, but he expects to know more around August.

Ford and Regan’s dynamic relationship thrived through their passion for basketball. Even though they will be thousands of miles away from each other, they will always be joined by one moniker: MAC champions.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Ford said. “With mistakes, you learn things. I feel like every choice I made ended up with a positive or a negative consequence. And that’s only going to help me in the long run.”

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor. He can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com