Rick Barnes gave them both the vision.
Ford, five years after last playing in the NBA and 14 years after leading the Longhorns to the Final Four and turning pro, graduated from Texas on Friday, receiving his bachelor's degree in youth and community studies, with a minor in educational psychology.
Barnes attended the ceremonies and shared an emotional moment with Ford afterward.
"Father figure for me when I was here," said Ford, tears rolling down his face after briefly burying his face in Barnes' chest. "And in sports, it's hard to trust anybody, especially coming out of high school.
"And ... he had a vision; I trusted his vision. And I'm living it. Him, my mother and my father, they had a vision. A vision I didn't see, I didn't understand. I just trusted them. And I've trusted everything and every guidance they've ever given me, even to this day. And I depend on them a lot."
Ford garnered Wooden National Player of the Year honors in 2003, four years before Durant did the same after his one year at Texas.
"I'm proud of him," Barnes said of Ford. "Because he is -- I told him, you can never be associated with any other university but the University of Texas, and I'm just really -- oh, it's cool, man.
"But I'm so happy for him, and proud is an understatement. But he deserves it more than anybody."
Ford, 34, participated in the commencement for the College of Education. He was the starting point guard for two seasons with the Longhorns, leading them to their only Final Four since 1947. Texas lost in the 2003 semifinals to Syracuse and star freshman Carmelo Anthony.
Ford was the eighth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks that year. His NBA career was cut short by spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that put him at risk of paralysis. He played parts of eight seasons with the Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs.
Barnes, coach of the Tennessee Volunteers since 2015 after coaching Texas from 1998 to '15, said Ford called him about a month-and-a-half ago to let him know he would be graduating Friday.
"'I'm walking,' and he said 'You better be there,'" Barnes said. "And I said I wouldn't miss it for anything. I love him. I love him."
Ford's No. 11 was retired at Texas in 2004. He was the first basketball player and fourth Texas athlete whose number was retired.
"He would tell you it wasn't easy," Barnes said. "We had a lot of long talks where he started saying, 'Can I do it this way? Can I do it that way?' And one thing I told him, 'You got to understand something. Your jersey is hanging in that building, and you have gotta have a degree from the University of Texas.' And we argued a little bit, but he always came back around."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.