(Hey, at least I didn't use "Price is Right" or something like that as a title to this entry. Anyway, here's a follow-up story on A.J. Price that only ran in the print editions of today's New Haven Register)
By David Borges
HARTFORD — With only about 3,500 hearty souls filling Hartford Civic Center on Sunday — due mainly to the blizzard-like conditions outside — it was easy for University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun to hear his players communicating on the court in their 82-49 win over Quinnipiac.
A.J. Price’s voice resonated louder than all the others.
“You could hear A.J. really running the team,” Calhoun said. “And in huddle situations, he did a nice job.”
Price said he wasn’t necessarily shouting out anything special, just “things they already know that they have to do.” When 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet would go up for a rebound, for instance, Price would still yell out, “Rebound!” to make sure Thabeet completes the play.
“I’m just trying to be that second voice in these guys’ heads,” Price said.
As one of just three juniors on a team with no seniors, and as the Huskies’ point guard and, arguably, their best player, Price’s decision to step into a vocal leadership role is a welcomed one for Calhoun.
“He’s been trying to get me to do it for a long time. I’ve actually taken a little longer to respond than I should have,” Price said. “Now, things are coming along. (Sunday) was the first day where we were clicking on all cylinders. I think (Sunday) was the beginning of something real special with this team.”
Even though he only scored six points, Price’s fingerprints were all over this game. He dished out nine assists, matching his career high for the third time this season, and turned the ball over just twice. But it was more what he said than what he did.
Tom Moore, who spent the prior 13 seasons as Calhoun’s assistant before taking over the Quinnipiac program this year, noticed more of a swagger from this year’s Huskies compared to a year ago.
“I think A.J. is bringing that to the team,” Calhoun said. “He feels better about himself, and when A.J. feels better about himself, we feel better about ourselves.”
Calhoun added that Price’s confident play is starting to remind him of a former UConn point guard who just so happened to lead the Huskies to their first national title.
“The guy who walked in here with a swagger and changed that whole thing was Khalid El-Amin,” Calhoun said. “We need someone who feels that way. A.J. has the ability — not to be Khalid, necessarily — but to be on the same level, to be the guy that can kind of command a team to do certain things. I could hear him (Sunday) saying things and doing things. We need a leader on the court, and he provides that leadership.”
Junior forward Jeff Adrien agrees.
“He’s talking out there, leading by example and action, not just by words,” said Adrien, who has been growing into more of a leader himself this season.
Added Price: “Being one of the older guys on the team, it comes with the territory.”
As Price Goes, So Goes UConn
Calhoun brought up another interesting point regarding Price this season: whenever the Huskies have played well, Price has played well. When UConn has played poorly, Price usually hasn’t had a very good game.
“There’s a direct correlation,” Calhoun said. “You can look it up in the notes.” O.K., Coach, let’s do just that.
The Huskies are 7-2, but some of those wins came against relative cupcakes (Florida A&M, Quinnipiac). Conversely, UConn has played fairly well in its two losses, both to Top 20 teams (Memphis and Gonzaga). So, let’s not look at how Price has played in UConn’s wins, but rather in games in which the Huskies have played well: vs. Buffalo, Gardner-Webb (the first time), Memphis, Gonzaga and Quinnipiac.
In those five games, Price has averaged 18.6 points and 5.6 assists and shot 53 percent from the floor. In UConn’s other four games, Price has averaged a mere 4.0 points and shot just 27 percent (though his assist average is at 6.5).
“Guys on this team have told me that plenty of times, that it starts with me,” Price said. “When I come out and play with that certain intensity, the team seems to follow. I’ll come out and play hard every day, they know that, and I think this team will be the same.”
And even on nights when his shots aren’t falling, Price will remain a vocal floor leader.
“That’s something that I will be doing for the rest of the year, definitely,” Price said. “I liked the way we responded as a team (Sunday). Our offense wasn’t great, but our defense was very good. That’s what I remember this team playing like, as a team, defensively. If it takes me screaming the whole game, that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
David Borges may be reached at email@example.com