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Knight Ridder NewspapersCheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock has emerged as one of the WNBA’s best players through the first half of the season. She is one of only three players averaging a double-double this season and is the only rookie on the All-Star roster. But she gets more attention for being the daughter of NBA superstar Karl Malone.

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Everywhere she goes, Cheryl Ford hears the same name over and over.

Karl Malone. Karl Malone.

When you're the basketball-playing daughter of an NBA great, there is no escaping the comparisons.

Ford would rather do without them. After all, she is a rising star in a league of her own. The Detroit Shock center is the only rookie slated to play in the WNBA All-Star game today, following the same footsteps as her famous father.

"I get tired of hearing that," Ford, who was selected by coaches as a reserve, said Friday. "I'm trying to make a name. That name always comes up. That gets on my nerves."

Ford has been one of the league's best players through the first half of the season. She is averaging 11.5 points and 11.1 rebounds, joining Lisa Leslie and Chamique Holdsclaw as the only players averaging a double-double.

After being taken with the third overall pick in the WNBA draft out of Louisiana Tech - the same school Malone went to - Ford set high goals for herself. But she never expected to be an All-Star so quickly.

"It's pretty exciting," Ford said. "I'm glad to be here to represent the '03 rookie class."

She also represents a famous basketball family. It almost never happened.

Ford never wanted to play basketball. No way would she follow the same path as Malone, with whom she had no relationship growing up in Summerfield, La.

But her mother saw Ford growing into a basketball player and decided she should play.

"My mom made me play, I had no choice," Ford said.

She hated the game at first. But after a few years, Ford began enjoying basketball. She became a star with the Lady Techsters, while also developing a long-awaited relationship with Malone.

Now they are close, talking each day on the phone. She does not know whether her father will be in New York for the All-Star game.

"We have a great relationship," Ford said. "It's a dad-daughter relationship."

Ford has made an immediate impact on her team. Detroit went 9-23 last season but has turned things around and is one of the league's biggest surprises, going 10-5 and holding second place in the Eastern Conference.

Her teammates understand Ford wants to shed the reminders of Malone and prove she is a great player on her own.

"A lot of people bring up her father," Shock teammate Swin Cash said. "She wants to make her own identity. She wants people to talk about Cheryl Ford and not her dad.

"Yes, she's Karl Malone's daughter but she's a heck of a player."

The Eastern Conference definitely needs her help. The West has won each of the previous four All-Star games, primarily because it has size in the middle.

This year, the 6-foot-3 Ford and 6-2 Natalie Williams - who is playing her first game for the East after being traded to Indiana - will be counted on to help defend Leslie, Lauren Jackson and the rest of the West.

"It's helped Detroit to have a big strong rebounder like her and to have a person who is going to take after her father," East coach Richie Adubato said. "We're going to need every rebounder we can get. We're counting on Ford to contribute with her strength, which is rebounding."

Ford would love to win Rookie of the Year honors, and is considering playing in Korea after the season is over for about three months.

She also is looking forward to watching her dad play with his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Malone committed to the Lakers on Thursday, joining Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton.

"I love it!" Ford said. "I think I'll like LA.

"L.A. is going to be pretty hungry because they lost so early in the playoffs. I think he's going to go out and win them a ring."

She hopes to do the same for the Shock. But first she will enjoy her first All-Star appearance, even if she has to answer questions about her father.

"I didn't even expect to start coming into this season, so it's a great feeling to be here," Ford said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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