College Basketball

Charlotte 49ers turn to Mark Price to revive basketball program

Mark Price, right, works with Kemba Walker (15) during a practice at Time Warner Cable Arena on July 9, 2013. The Charlotte 49ers will introduce former NBA great and Charlotte Hornets assistant Price, 51, on Thursday as their new head basketball coach.
Mark Price, right, works with Kemba Walker (15) during a practice at Time Warner Cable Arena on July 9, 2013. The Charlotte 49ers will introduce former NBA great and Charlotte Hornets assistant Price, 51, on Thursday as their new head basketball coach. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Mark Price was once one of the NBA’s great shooters and playmakers. His name is so revered in his home state of Oklahoma that there is a sports coliseum – Mark Price Arena – named for him in Enid, the town in which he grew up.

Here’s what Price is up to these days: He will be introduced Thursday afternoon as the new men’s basketball coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Price, 51, will succeed Alan Major, who parted ways with Charlotte on March 15 after five seasons. The Observer has confirmed Price has signed a five-year contract.

Price, who retired from the NBA in 1998, has been an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets the past two seasons. He was with the Hornets for their game Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets at Time Warner Cable Arena but declined comment.

Save for a brief pro stint in Australia in 2006, Price hasn’t been a head coach on any level above high school.

But at least one person close to Price believes that relative lack of experience – he had been an NBA assistant since 2007 – won’t be a factor in how Price performs with the 49ers, who haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2005 and had three losing seasons during Major’s five-year tenure.

“Mark has coaching in his blood,” said Bobby Cremins, who was Price’s coach at Georgia Tech in the 1980s. “He has stayed with the game, and he knows the game.”

Oklahoma roots

Price grew up playing the game with his brothers Matt and Brent in Enid under the supervision of his father Denny, a successful high school and men’s and women’s college coach.

“His father was the major influence in Mark’s life,” said Cremins. “He taught him how to shoot and handle the ball.”

A standout shooter in his playing days, Denny Price drilled the skill into Mark, as well as his other sons, Matt and Brent (both of whom also had successful playing careers).

“Dad was just a stickler,” Mark Price told the Kansas City Star in 1989. “He couldn’t stand to see anyone miss a free throw. He would always come home and complain about his own players. And I guess that is always in the back of our mind.”

Cremins first heard about Price from George Felton, a Georgia Tech assistant at the time who was scouting an AAU tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.

“George told me he’d found us a point guard,” said Cremins.

When Cremins asked where he’d seen Price, Felton said Jacksonville.

“That’s not too far from Atlanta, that’s good,” Cremins said.

“No, coach, he’s actually from Enid, Oklahoma,” said Felton.

“Where?” replied Cremins. “I’m not going to Oklahoma to recruit anybody.”

But Cremins relented. Price wasn’t being heavily recruited, but he had a dream of playing for North Carolina in the ACC. The Tar Heels had already recruited another guard – Steve Hale, also coincidentally from Oklahoma – so Price took Georgia Tech’s offer.

At 6 feet, Price’s shooting ability and command of the game as Cremins’ floor leader transformed Georgia Tech.

“I wasn’t sure about him because he was so small, but I took the chance,” said Cremins. “Then when he got to Georgia Tech, he just exploded. He changed our program, put us on the map.”

With the ACC experimenting with a 3-point arc of 17 feet 9 inches in 1982-83, Price averaged 20.3 points, becoming the first freshman to lead the league in scoring. Playing against opposition such as North Carolina’s Michael Jordan, Maryland’s Len Bias and Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, Price averaged 17.5 points over his career and made All-ACC three times.

NBA stardom

The Dallas Mavericks took Price with the first pick of the second round (25th overall) of the 1986 draft, then traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a draft-day deal. He would play nine seasons in Cleveland, making the All-Star teams four times.

His 90.39 free-throw shooting percentage is second highest in NBA history behind Steve Nash (90.43). Price is 29th in NBA history in 3-point shooting percentage (.402) and his 4,683 assists rank 60th on the career list.

He played the final three seasons of his career with Golden State, Washington and Orlando. The Cavs retired his jersey in 1999.

Price returned to Atlanta after his playing career ended, coaching high school for two seasons and spending one year as an assistant to Cremins at Georgia Tech in 1999-2000.

After working as an NBA television analyst, Price started his NBA coaching career with the Denver Nuggets in 2007.

Price was in his second season with Charlotte’s NBA franchise. Perhaps his biggest contribution was his work in a complete tear-down and reconstruction of forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot.

“He’s done a lot,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. “I’m supporting him just like he supported me. He is going to do a great job. He’s a teacher, and I’m happy for him.’’

Price also helped Hornets point guard Kemba Walker with pick-and-roll decision-making, pace of play and developing in-between shots off the drive. That “tear drop” shot Walker takes in the lane? He perfected it under Price, who used it to great success himself during his career.

“He’s been great for me,” said Walker. “Mark has helped me become a better player overall – a better point guard, a better leader. I go to him for anything I want to ask. A real help. He’s been really good.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129;

Twitter: @rick_bonnell

Scott: 704-358-5889;

Twitter: @davidscott14

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