In the late 1990s, Charlotte 49ers basketball coach Bobby Lutz needed a big man and he chose Kelvin Price. Price was tough and athletic. But at 6-foot-7 he was undersized for a power forward and center.
As a boxer, his height suddenly is ideal. The sports popularity hasnt grown, but the size of its heavyweights has. Longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko is 6-6. Prices opponent Saturday, Deontay Wilder, is 6-7.
The Wilder fight, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, is by far the biggest of Prices five-year career. Wilder-Price will be on the Amir Khan-Carlos Molina undercard, and televised by Showtime at 10:30 p.m. (EST).
Wilder is favored. He has fought 25 opponents and knocked out 25 opponents, some with his left hand and some with his right. He also was the lone medalist on the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team. He won a bronze.
Obviously, hes good, Price says by telephone from Los Angeles.
Price says he doesnt expect to trade punches. Price has superb footwork, and despite his 79-inch frame, hes difficult to hit.
Well put on a good show, he says.
Price is 13-0 with six knockouts. Hes 37 years old, 10 years older than Wilder.
Unlike another 49ers heavyweight, Calvin Brock, Price did not proceed from the campus to the ring.
Price averaged 11 points and 7.2 rebounds for Lutz after transferring from Louisiana-Lafayette, and he tried to parlay the numbers into an NBA gig. He tried out for the Charlotte Hornets and played professionally in Australia, the Philippines and Venezuela.
Price, who grew up in New Iberia, La., was playing for a minor-league basketball team in Pensacola, Fla. Another player there was Roy Jones, who dabbled in basketball but in his prime was among the best boxers in the world. Jones father, Big Roy, ran a boxing club in Pensacola, and Jones told Price he ought to box.
Price is a superior athlete, and people often suggest he try something new. At Charlotte, track coaches wanted him to compete in the triple jump. Lutz, now the associate head basketball coach at N.C. State, suggested Price go to the NFL scouting combine.
He would have been an unbelievable tight end, says Lutz. He has great hands and feet.
Lutz and Price still talk. Price will ask his opinion about a variety of subjects, boxing among them.
I love my school, Price says. And Id love to come back and fight in Charlotte.
How would Lutz describe Price to people who might not remember him?
Hes tough, athletic, and has a great attitude, Lutz says. Very intelligent. He didnt start fights but he stood up for his teammates. Very loyal.
At one practice Lutz told his players to run a challenging array of sprints. Price laughed the sprints werent challenging for him.
Chip Sigmon was the trainer for the Hornets when Kelvin tried out, and Chip told me Kelvin had the best footwork of any player he had worked with, Lutz says.
Despite Prices feet, and his size, his career has been quiet five years, 13 fights. He has fought on two weeks notice; he has served as his own trainer. His signature victory was against then undefeated Tor Hamer in Madison Square Garden in 2010.
Boxing doesnt have a schedule. Because of Prices size and lack of a national reputation, he is not an opponent others seek.
So here he is, on the cusp of his biggest challenge and opportunity. And hes giving away 10 years. Is age a disadvantage?
I hate that question, Price, who is courteous and laid back, says with sudden feeling. I hear that all the time.
Price talks about Wladimir Klitschko, who is 36, and his heavyweight brother Vitali, who is 41. He says all the boxers who fans talk about are in their 30s Manny Pacquiao is 34 and the man who knocked him out last week, Juan Manuel Marquez, is 39.
Im young in body, says Price.
Hes right; hes sustained less damage than fighters 15 years younger. Price had only one amateur fight.
Age can be an advantage.
I know life, Price says. Ive been through it.
He gave up a $100,000 a year basketball salary to box. He gave up a relationship.
I sacrificed, Price says.
If he upsets Wilder he will be neither old nor undersized. Hell be a fighter fans talk about and contenders no longer can avoid.