Almost certainly, you will never hear another college basketball coach explain his job quite like this.
“It’s always about the pixie dust. You’ve always got to have it there,” said Sinclair Community College coach – and new athletics director – Jeff Price. “I don’t expect the players to always get it now, but if you keep exposing it to them, somewhere along the line it will kick in. Sometime they will understand.”
To better see what he is talking about, consider how he and his team are kicking off this new hoops season.
Monday evening at 7:30 — Veterans Day — the Tartan Pride host the Wright Patterson Air Force Base team in a Military Appreciation Day promotion. Tech. Sgt. Alyson Jones will sing the national anthem, and at halftime a pair of airmen will be honored by base commander Col. Cassie Barlow.
On Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Price will have his team on the same Air Force One that brought the president’s body and his stunned widow, Jackie Kennedy, back to Washington, D.C. It was on the same flight that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the new president.
Today that famed Boeing VC-137C is on display at the National Air Force Museum in Fairborn. Price will have his team on board the plane at 5 p.m. — the same time the somber flight was airborne in 1963.
“This is something very important they should know about and what better way to do that than put them on a piece of that history,” said Price.
Just a few days after that experience, Price and his team — for the eighth year in a row — will serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Dayton Boys and Girls Club.
Then, on Dec. 7, in what already will be the 11th game of its season, Sinclair will travel to Philadelphia to play the University of Pennsylvania’s JV team at the Palestra. It’s the fifth time Sinclair has played Penn and always the trip has been special.
“We’ll take a tour of the school — I want our guys to see what an Ivy League campus looks and feels like — and then we’ll play and afterward we’ll walk the Palestra concourse,” Price said. “You can’t be in the cathedral of college basketball and not drink in all the history. After that we’ll get something to eat, maybe some cheese steaks at Abner’s just a couple of streets down, and then come back to see Penn’s varsity play (Wagner.)
“The next day we’ll go around Philadelphia — see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, the National Constitution Center and maybe Benjamin Franklin’s grave. After that we’ll get back on the bus for a nine-hour ride home.”
Other years the Pride travels to Washington for a game against Georgetown ‘s club team or North Carolina and a game against the Tar Heels’ JV. Each of those trips comes with experiences beyond the court, as well.
“Here it’s not just about winning and losing basketball games, it’s about developing the character of young men,” said Price in a voice suddenly washed with emotion. “Our program is based on the three Cs: competition, classroom … and community.”
The latter is an afterthought, at best, with most college teams, but Sinclair isn’t your typical program and Price certainly isn’t your average coach.
“Sometimes we’d like to win a few more ballgames — I’m not going to lie — but we’re not under the same microscope as you would be at UD or Wright State or other Division I programs. And that sometimes allows us to do what we need to do.
“By the time we get them, a lot of our guys’ careers are almost over. And that’s tough for them to sometimes understand. They all think they’re going to go pro and go overseas. My job is to start helping instill some thoughts on what’s going to happen next: ‘How am I going to maintain a livelihood and be productive?’
“That’s why we give them experiences that help open their eyes and see things they didn’t know were there.”
That’s the pixie dust Jeff Price sprinkles on his players.
That Price should reference a kind of golden glitter or magical stardust isn’t surprising.
For years he has spent part of his summers in a land of make believe, working at a well-known amusement complex dressed as an overstuffed cartoon character.
He’s not permitted to name the place for fear of pulling the curtain back on the illusion, but he has a video of one of his performances stored on his phone and when you see him dancing, it is positively delightful.
“Whenever I put on the costume and walk out on stage and see someone smile, it makes it all worth it,” he beamed.
While there is no way you can picture other hoops coaches — guys like Bobby Knight, Bob Huggins or even our own Archie Miller and Billy Donlon — doing something like that, Price is definitely part of their basketball brotherhood.
First and foremost he is a hoops coach.
After growing up in Lewisburg and graduating from Marshall University, he coached for a decade — head women’s basketball, men’s assistant and golf — at Davis and Elkins College, a small NCAA Division II school in West Virginia. He then spent a season at Earlham College before coming to Sinclair in 2000 as Paul Bryant’s assistant.
Three years later, when Bryant moved on to Urbana University, Price became the head coach. This summer he also was named the school’s AD.
His teams have a 170-124 record and six years ago the Pride won the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference championship.
Over the past two seasons, 14 of Price’s players have gone on to play at four-year NCAA or NAIA schools. Among others, Charlie Byers is now a point guard as Kennesaw State, Gavin Shumann plays for Southern Indiana, Vic Wyrick for Valdosta State, Mark Allen is at Mount St. Joseph and Shannon Walls is at Trinity Baptist.
Then there is Mark Anderson, the former Dunbar High School standout who led the nation in scoring his two seasons at Sinclair, then went on to play for the Washington Generals as part of the Harlem Globetrotters’ tour.
Several former players regularly come back to visit with the current team or, in the case of Brian Tingle, to help coach them.
Price said the returnees all have one thing in common:
“They want to talk about their experiences here and how that helped them in their lives.”
On the road
Price wants his players involved in the Dayton community and the world beyond and that leads them down all kinds of avenues.
Players take part every spring in the Generation Dayton city cleanup, a project that pairs them with the area’s top young professionals. In recent years they also have answered phones at the Muscular Dystrophy telethon, helped register voters and even were taught proper knife-and-fork etiquette should they attend a formal dinner.
Every fall they visit Dayton’s VA Hospital, a place that strikes a special chord with Price. His dad, Homer, a World War II vet, is buried in the National Cemetery there. His son Michael is a nuclear engineer in the Navy.
“This year when we went to the VA, several of our players had a conversation with a guy in his 90s (Staff Sergeant Charlie Krandall) who was in a wheelchair,” Price said. “He was talking about World War II and how he was a prisoner of war in North Africa. He told how he and some of the guys finally escaped during an Allied Forces bombing raid. He was wounded in the process and some of the others didn’t make it.
“Our guys just listened quietly, their jaws almost to the ground. You see this stuff on TV — on Turner Classic Movies or something — but here it was right there in front of them. They could reach out and touch it.
“The man’s daughter was there and she was almost crying as he talked. Afterward, she said, ‘Dad hasn’t opened up like this in a long, long time.’ Moments like that for our guys are priceless.”
The highlight of each season is the Pride’s one big road trip. It rotates every three years between Philadelphia, Washington and North Carolina.
One year the Sinclair team wasn’t able to get on North Carolina’s floor to practice beforehand so Duke allowed them to come into Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“As Mike Krzyzewski and his players walked off the court, we walked on,” Price said. “I told our guys, ‘You’ve got some big shoes to fill today.’ And then later, there we were playing at the Dean Smith Center at North Carolina. Imagine all that in a 24-hour span.”
And with that he pulled up a photo on his computer screen. It showed the lit-up scoreboard blazing the final from two years ago: Sinclair 87, Carolina 85.
The Washington trip comes with visits to the White House and Supreme Court, stops at the Lincoln Memorial, the memorials to Rev. Martin Luther King, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, maybe the Ford Theater and always Arlington National Cemetery, where the team visits President Kennedy’s grave. If any former Thurgood Marshall High School players are on the team, a stop at the Supreme Court justice’s grave is made, and there’s always a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the Changing of the Guard.
“Last year, right after we visited the White House, John Boehner brought us to his office and then took us onto the floor of the Capitol,” Price said.
The team posed for pictures with him and in the process the 5-foot-6 Speaker of the House was a bit taken aback.
“He looked up at all the guys around him and said ‘Wow, these guys are tall,’ ” Price said with a smile. “I said, ‘Well, Mr. Speaker, they are college basketball players, after all. We want them tall.”
And at Sinclair, thanks to all that pixie dust, they just keep growing and growing.