Denton: Price Enjoys Mentor Role
By John Denton
March 7, 2014
ORLANDO – A scrawny 5-foot-6 guard who had the majority of his senior season of high school robbed by a broken right wrist, Ronnie Price knew that he had to do something to open the eyes of college recruiters. What he did certainly opened plenty of eyes. And it made more than a few jaws drop, too.
"I was just 5-6 and I dunked for the first time in warm-ups in the last game of the year," Price remembered. "After that first dunk, I was able to pretty much dunk anyway, anyhow that I wanted. I think it surprised a lot of people when I was dunking at 5-6."
The play had many of the Magic players up off the bench waving towels and celebrating, while Price never even cracked much of a smile. After all, he needed to get back on defense, and Price is quite serious about his job as a defensive pest for the Magic. But veteran guard Jameer Nelson still remembers being in awe of Price's surprising explosiveness off the floor.
"He's probably the most athletic guard I've played with at that size," said Nelson, a veteran of 10 NBA seasons. "Just seeing what he can do above the rim at his size is amazing. And on defense, he puts you in a tough situation when he's guarding you because he's always nagging you. You have to be athletic to do that, too."
Price, a nine-year NBA veteran, was signed by the Magic last summer to be a voice of reason for Orlando's host of 20-something players. It is absolutely no coincidence that his dressing stall in the Magic's locker room is right next to prized rookie Victor Oladipo's stall. And he often sets the tone in practice with his relentless hustle and his first-to-arrive, last-to-leave mentality.
"I enjoy being a mentor," said Price, whose Magic (19-44) face the Spurs (45-16) in San Antonio on Saturday night. "I think it is part of my responsibility and part of my respecting the game and respecting the people who mentored me when I was a rookie and a young guy in this league. I would be selfish to not try to mentor some of these guys and share what I've learned in this league."
Price is expected to return to a reserve role on Saturday with Nelson back from an illness and Oladipo recovered from a left ankle issue. Nelson missed the past two games, while Oladipo was out of his first game on Wednesday. Both made the trip to San Antonio and are expected to see action on Saturday.
Price has learned to be a survivor in the NBA by keeping himself ready to play when needed as a second or third point guard. With Nelson and Oladipo both out of action recently, Price was pressed into duty and he responded quite well. He missed all seven of his shots in Sunday's defeat of Philadelphia, but he cooled off standout point guard Michael Carter-Williams with his sticky defense in the second half. And on Wednesday against Houston, Price bounced back with eight points and five assists and he held point guard Patrick Beverley to one of eight shooting.
Price, 30, was able to carve out quite a collegiate and professional career despite being a life-long underdog. Most college recruiters shied away from the Friendswood, Texas native after he broke his shooting wrist as a high school senior, but he was able to attract attention with his dunking ability and his final stint of AAU basketball after graduating high school at 17 years old.
His only scholarship offer was to Nicholls State, and he even went there as a walk-on his first semester because he was a late signee. He ultimately transferred to Utah Valley State College, a school now known as Utah Valley University that was making the transition to the Division 1. Price averaged 24.3 points as a senior in the school's first season at the D-1 level.
He went undrafted in 2005, but he fought his way onto to Sacramento's roster. After two years with the Kings, he spent four years in Utah as the backup point guard to all-star Deron Williams. He has since bounced around to Phoenix, Portland and Orlando while averaging less than four points a game in 400 career NBA games. Price, who is married with two kids, keeps getting jobs in the NBA because of his maturity, tremendous basketball IQ and his willingness to fill any role.
"I never take the game for granted," said Price, who is averaging 2 points and 1.5 assists in 23 games this season. "I still feel like a kid and I love the game. That excites me because I was always worried earlier on in my career if I would have the same love and passion for the game. What I've come to grasp with is I have more passion for the game now because I understand it more. This is the greatest game in the world and I feel fortunate to play it on this stage."
Price battled through a major ankle injury last season and he said he is just now getting back to form with his jumping abilities. He still has an unguaranteed year left on his contract with the Magic, but he knows that the end of his NBA career is coming sooner rather than later. Price knows that his future will revolve around basketball somehow, but he said he might entertain working at the grass-roots level so that he can teach kids that they can accomplish their dreams even as the longest of longshots. Even if they are scrawny 5-foot-6 guards dunking for the first time.
"I like my role right now as a player and I still think of myself as a player," Price said. "What I do as far as talking to guys on and off the court, that just comes naturally to me. I don't consider myself a player-coach or anything like that; I love the game of basketball so I know that I will always be around the game. Maybe my angle for this game is being around kids – maybe high school or college kids. When that time gets here, I'm sure that God will show me the way and I'll follow His lead."