Potomac gets its money’s worth with Price

When the Northwest Region boys basketball tournament begins Tuesday night, much of the focus will go to Duke-bound marksman J.J. Redick of Cave Spring. One player worth remembering, though, hasn’t even scored a point in the last 60 minutes he has played.

Gary Price, eight inches shorter than Redick at 5-foot-9, wasn’t sought-after by the biggest names in college athletics in any of his three sports. He doesn’t have the height, weight or even the 40-yard dash time that it takes to impress Division I-A recruiters and even most from Division I-AA.

So Price, whose main sport is football, will head for Virginia Military Institute, the one I-AA college to offer him a full ride. The Keydets will get an athlete who’s coming off winning district titles in football, indoor track and now basketball. He’ll try all three in Lexington, as a sure-fire varsity football competitor and perhaps a walk-on for coach Bart Bellairs’ high-scoring basketball team.

Price, already accustomed to playing bigger than his height, was surprised by the lack of interest he encountered. He and Panther football coach Ben Stutler sent out a multitude of tapes and letters to college recruiters, with the most interest by far coming from VMI.

“It’s not going to bother me that Virginia didn’t want him or Maryland didn’t want him,” Stutler said on Saturday. “They’ve got their own programs to run.”

But just how much will it bother Price? He clearly has a love for the games he plays. On Friday night, he went back and forth with Osbourn’s rowdy student section in the Panthers’ 54-52 overtime win in the Cedar Run District tournament final. He had a game-high five assists and helped find a hot hand in Jason Flagler as Potomac pulled out a difficult postseason test. The win could greatly improve Potomac’s regional draw, as it won’t have to face Cave Spring until the final.

Truth be told, Friday wasn’t Price’s best night as a basketball player. He and backcourt mate Bryan Butler nearly dribbled out the last two minutes of regulation, but Price missed a critical free throw that preceded Brandon Oglesby’s game-tying three-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation.

“Gary missed that one free throw, but he’s still a heck of a foul shooter,” Potomac basketball coach Kendall Hayes said. “He’s a guy we want up there.”

He’s a guy that Stutler, Hayes and Potomac track coach Bill Stearns can all appreciate even if college coaches can’t.

“Everyone has their own ideas, their own programs and their own beliefs,” Stutler said. “They have their ideas of what works and what doesn’t. A lot obviously believe that little guys can’t do too much for you. If you don’t have a number six feet, 200 pounds or 4.4 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], you can’t play.

“A lot of times, I’d much rather have that kid who has that heart and determination.”

Price, a standout quarterback and defensive back for a Potomac football team that reached the last two regional finals, may get to try a new position this fall. He’ll not only run back kicks and run the occasional option as a quarterback; he’ll also line up as a receiver.

“They have great plans to get a lot of production from him,” Stutler said. “They’ll line him up at a slot and throw a lot of four- or-five wideout looks to get him the ball in open field. You know how elusive he is, and they don’t have a lot of guys like that.”

A solid student and noted self-starter, Price doesn’t like to dwell on his underdog status. “I’m going to VMI and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said on Wednesday night, following a basketball win over Osbourn Park in which he made a career-high four three-pointers all in the first quarter.

Even Price, a quiet leader, has to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

“Gary’s going to play the way Gary plays,” Stutler said. “That’s just because that’s the way he is. He’s going to be successful no matter what he does. He has a work ethic that he’s developed over years, no matter where he is in the classroom, on the field, on the court and on the track.

“But I think [the limited interest from recruiters] will be a force that drives him. That will have to be in the back of his head.”

And if they’re looking for an impressive number, here’s one: 4:30 a.m. That’s the time he had to wake up on Saturday morning fewer than seven hours after the Panthers’ basketball team left Osbourn High School with a district championship trophy on Friday night.

“The track team left for the Northwest Region meet at VMI at 5:30 this morning, and you know who was up for that,” Stutler said. “That’s the kind of guy Gary is.”

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