Ali Forde is not a forgettable woman.
The 6-feet-2-inch post would stand out in a crowd based on her height alone, despite the fact that she basically skips around campus with an infectious grin plastered across her face.
â€œSheâ€™s really happy â€” always,â€ said freshman basketball teammate Mikayla Ferenz.
As Forde makes her way down the halls of the Kibbie Dome, players, coaches and staff members all call out her name.
The entire time she bounces a basketball between her legs, poking fun at a football player when he tries to steal the ball.
Idaho womenâ€™s basketball head coach Jon Newlee said the senior has always had a goofy personality.
â€œSheâ€™s quirky,â€ he said. â€œSheâ€™s different in a good way. Sheâ€™s always looking at the silver lining of things.â€
Forde will be graduating in May with a bachelorâ€™s in management and human resources. She said she has been working with an agent to secure a spot on a basketball team in Europe.
Forde said Newlee has been an invaluable resource in her search for professional teams.
â€œI walked into his office freshman year and heard about other players who have (pursued professional basketball) and he was like, â€˜Yeah Ali this is something you can do,â€™â€ she said. â€œSo heâ€™s kind of had it in the back of his mind that it was something I wanted to do, and heâ€™s developed me in the best way he can for that.â€
Newlee helped the graduating senior find an agent to serve as a liaison between Forde and potential teams in Europe.
â€œIâ€™m in my agentâ€™s hands,â€ Forde said. â€œI tell her where I want to go and the places I would not want to go, so she gets a feel of what I want and what kind of player theyâ€™re looking for.â€
Forde said she hopes to play in either Italy or Croatia.
â€œPlaying in college was the first step,â€ she said. â€œGetting to travel and play the sport you love â€” I donâ€™t really see what could be better, especially heading into the next couple years of my life. Itâ€™s nice that I donâ€™t necessarily have to have it all figured out right away.â€
Forde said that she knew she wanted to play collegiately after attending a basketball game at the University of Washington.
â€œI thought it was the coolest thing ever,â€ she said. â€œIn fourth grade I was like, â€˜This is something I want to do
Forde joined an AAU basketball team soon after and committed more time to practice.
â€œI was super dedicated when I was like 13 or 14 years old,â€ she said. â€œWhen I moved back to (Woodinville, Washington), I got put on a really good select team. Being on a team with good basketball players â€” it pushed me to come here.â€
Forde described her family as intensely dedicated to sports.
â€œOne of my earliest memories of my dad is playing football with him in the living room and getting yelled at by my mom to go outside,â€ she said.
Her father Brian, an alumnus of Washington State University, played four seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 1988-1991.
Fordeâ€™s older brother Maxx was a defensive end on the Vandal football team and currently plays for the British Columbia Lions, the same professional team his dad played for after college prior to joining the Saints.
Despite her lineage, Forde said she never felt pressured by her father to succeed in athletics.
â€œMy dad was really cool about sports,â€ she said. â€œHe was never pushy about anything. He wanted me and my brother to figure it out ourselves, whether we wanted to play.â€
Forde said her fatherâ€™s hands-off approach allowed her to view him as a parent, not a coach.
â€œItâ€™s been really cool to have him as a support system because heâ€™s gone through harder practices than I can imagine,â€ she said. â€œHeâ€™s always showed up my games. Every game heâ€™s been able to be at heâ€™s driven up here.â€
Forde said she first became involved in the sport at the age of 5.
â€œThe first game I was in, I wasnâ€™t scoring any points,â€ she said. â€œI was playing really good defense and Iâ€™d steal the ball but I would never shoot. I just kept passing it. I came out on the bench and (my mom) said, â€˜The point of the game is to put the ball in the hoop.â€™â€
Forde said the anecdote is her motherâ€™s favorite basketball story. She also said she was initially confused as a child about the change of baskets at halftime, and occasionally scored points for the other team on accident.
â€œNow Iâ€™m scoring for my team â€” not the other team,â€ she said.
Forde has improved her game significantly since her childhood days. The senior averaged 8.9 points per game for Idaho, including a 23-point performance against Sacramento State in February.
Forde said when it came to apply for colleges, she was heavily influenced by her brotherâ€™s decision to attend Idaho.
â€œMy brother is one of my best friends,â€ she said. â€œWhen I was in high school and he came to (UI) I definitely missed him. I would go in his room and sleep in his bed sometimes because I missed him so much.â€
Forde said another factor in her decision were the sports offered by Idaho â€” specifically volleyball and basketball.
â€œIâ€™m that stubborn girl who when you tell me I canâ€™t something, I do it,â€ she said. â€œEveryone was telling me, â€˜Oh Ali you should probably choose basketball, you should probably choose volleyball.â€™â€
Forde said she contacted schools who had offered basketball scholarships and asked about the opportunity to play volleyball as well. Forde said Idaho was one of the schools to extend the opportunity, leading her to take the chance to play while attending school with her brother.
Newlee said he allowed her to pursue both sports because he thought it was important that Ali followed her dreams.
â€œWeâ€™d wait anxiously for volleyball season to be over to get her,â€ he said. â€œOnce we had her full-time â€”you can see what we did with her this year.â€
Newlee said Ali was able to play during the preseason for the first time this fall, allowing her to help build the team.
â€œI think that gave our team the confidence and gave her the confidence in what she can do,â€ he said.
Newlee said that the team could not have reached the level of success they did without the presence of the senior post.
â€œSheâ€™s always been our rock in the middle for four years,â€ Newlee said. â€œI know we lost some games during those three years she played volleyball, where if we had her I know we would have beat some people.â€
Ali said having a strong support system was vita during her first three years as a dual-sport student athlete.
Newlee said he watched her struggle with balancing both sports, but was relieved when she chose to focus on basketball.
â€œI think she did a great job with it, but by the same token itâ€™s so hard to play one sport, let alone two as well as she did,â€ Newlee said. â€œShe could concentrate all on basketball and have somewhat of a life off the floor. We saw a different Ali on the floor, a more focused Ali.â€
Forde said she experienced many of the same growing pains as other incoming freshmen when she joined the program.
â€œIt was hard for me, coming up here and moving away from my parents,â€ she said. â€œI already had a support system here. You canâ€™t really fall far from the tree when you have your big brother around.â€
Forde said her brother provided an instrumental supporting role during her time at Idaho.
â€œHaving my brother here was really cool,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™d get done with practice after having a rough day and call him and be like, â€˜Iâ€™m having a rough day.â€™ And he would just come chill with me in my dorm room.â€
Forde said she believes she has grown as a person during her time at the university.
â€œItâ€™s weird to look back at myself as a freshman because I was so young and naive,â€ she said. â€œI have kind of figured it out these past four years and grown and developed with my teammates. Itâ€™s just been such a great time. I have a lot of great memories.â€
Ferenz said FordeÂ has represented an important role model for her.
â€œI know that I can definitely get negative sometimes,â€ Ferenz said. â€œSo to see that sheâ€™s positive all the time makes me want to be like that, because I know that has such a good effect on the team.â€
Newlee said the senior pushed the team to succeed during the Big Sky Tournament.
â€œIn those times when we were down, she was in that huddle going, â€˜We are not losing this game,â€™ Newlee said. â€œI think everyone fed off that, her blocking and rebounding shots. It gave us a big lift. Everything about her I think weâ€™re going to miss.â€
Tess Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos