Ronnie Price hangs his hat on defense, toughness

PHOENIX — When Ronnie Price wrapped up his four-year hoops career at Clear Brook High School, there were no big-time universities waiting for him.

In fact, there weren’t any schools at all.

The Friendswood, Texas native graduated high school at 5-foot-7, 140 pounds soaking wet. Coaches didn’t like his prospects at the next level, leaving Price with a basketball future full of uncertainty.

Fast forward 10 years and Price’s body of work has disproved the naysayers who doubted the undersized 18-year-old.

“They’ve all motivated me to be the type of competitor that I am,” Price said.

That motivation has shined through in his accomplishments. At Utah Valley University, where he transferred after walking on at Nicholls State, Price won Division I Independent Player of the Year and earned a spot in the UVU Hall of Fame.

At the NBA level he’s played for two of the league’s most accomplished coaches in Rick Adelman and Jerry Sloan, while developing a reputation as a relentless competitor along the way.

And now, a decade after being told he had no future, Price has the opportunity to play in a wide-open system for a head coach that enhances his player’s strengths. He’ll no longer be limited by the flex offense that Sloan — and now Tyrone Corbin — employed in Utah as he fights to back up one of the top floor generals in recent history.

“I look at this opportunity as a blessing in many ways,” Price said. “Coming into this offense, it’s allowing me to sharpen up on some of the skills that I maybe missed out on in the past four years, being able to get up and down the floor, do some of the things I’ve done in the past and have fun playing the game again.”

If his track record of overcoming obstacles is any indication, Price will do everything in his power to make the most of his opportunity as he battles Sebastian Telfair for Phoenix’s backup point guard spot — a competition Price leads, according to Paul Coro.

“He’s always hungry,” said Suns assistant Elston Turner, who coached Price in Sacramento. “He plays like he’s hungry. He was a good pickup for us. “

Ever since his days as a walk-on at Nicholls State, or his emergence into a star at UVU, Price was never given a free pass. As he put it, “Everything wasn’t handed to me and I’ve always had to prove myself and compete for a job.”

It’s those experiences that have shaped Price into the player is today. The physicality, the never-back-down mentality is deeply engrained in the play of the 28-year-old guard. Whether he’s dunking over Carlos Boozer or meeting James Harden at the rim in transition, Price’s character  — and athleticism — is evident on the court.

“He’s a pitbull. He’ll run through a wall for you,” Turner said. “He doesn’t have any quit. He plays tough basketball, he’s smart, he listens, and he’s coachable.”

By Turner’s evaluation, Price sounds like the NBA’s perfect player. So what’s missing? Offense.

Price was one of the league’s worst offensive guards last season. As John Hollinger pointed out in his Phoenix Suns profiles, Price finished last season with a -2.48 pure point guard rating that Hollinger called “unspeakably awful.” Price also finished second-to-last among point guards in assist rate, and fourth-to-last in turnover rate.

He also turned in the worst field goal percentage among point guards, as he shot 35.2 percent from the field. To put it lightly, offense isn’t Price’s strong suit. But if there’s one team where pure athletes can thrive, it’s Phoenix.

Price also brings a defensive mentality the Suns have lacked at the point guard position since Nash arrived. He knows Turner’s system, giving him a leg up on Telair in their positional battle.

“I understand his principles and what he wants defensively, so hopefully I can be an example the best way I can,” Price said. “I take a lot of pride in playing defense.”

Price most likely won’t become the heir to Nash’s throne. He may not even beat out Telfair for the backup point guard spot. But given his character and determination to succeed, Price won’t go down without a fight. He’ll bring intensity, defense, and professionalism to Phoenix, and for a basketball journeyman with limited talent, that’s all you can ask for.

“I take this game very serious. I love to compete and I’m very loyal,” Price said. “I look at this as my family. This is my new family now. You’d do anything for your family, so I’d do anything for these guys as if they were my own family. That’s the way I’ve always approached it and I’ll never, ever change that mentality.”

And 1

  • Price on his relationship with Turner: “You never know how many times your paths will cross with different people in the NBA. The NBA is just a tight knit group of people. I started smiling when I found out he was on the staff and get a chance to mess around with him a little bit. … I remember his son was in high school, now he’s playing on national TV in college. It’s just crazy how fast time passes by. Now I’m considered a veteran, I guess. It’s just weird, it really is. I still feel like a rookie in my heart and still get excited about the game of basketball.”
  • Price on the toughest player he’s had to guard: “I would say Allen Iverson when I first got in the league because he would attack you every possession and you couldn’t touch him. He was so good at drawing fouls. Then Baron Davis when I first got into the league because he was so strong and explosive. Chauncey Billups was very tough.”
  • Price on playing for Adleman and Sloan: “Coach Adelman my rookie year, being around Mike Bibby and those guys and watching that corner offense that they ran. Of course coach Sloan. Wow. I’ve had a chance to play for Adelman and coach Sloan, who are two Hall of Fame coaches who have  a long history of success. Sloan taught you about the principles of life and how you bring the principles of life into the game of basketball. I’ve been fortunate.”

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