College Basketball

Charlotte 49ers’ Mark Price will learn plenty about who hates to lose

49er head coach Mark Price calls out a play in late first half play as Charlotte takes on Davidson in the Battle of the Hornets' Nest annual non-conference basketball game at Halton Arena on Tuesday, December 01, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Davidson won 109-74.
49er head coach Mark Price calls out a play in late first half play as Charlotte takes on Davidson in the Battle of the Hornets' Nest annual non-conference basketball game at Halton Arena on Tuesday, December 01, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Davidson won 109-74. Tim Cowie - DavidsonPhotos.com

Charlotte 49ers coach Mark Price says there are two distinct categories of basketball players: those who love to win and those who hate to lose. Price says he always prefers the ones who disdain losing.

Unfortunately, Price will have ample opportunity this season to test which of his players find losing most distasteful.

One-time Charlotte Hornets assistant Price had to readjust his focus this summer from coaching NBA lottery picks to teaching post-teens how to survive in Conference USA. The first season was never going to be easy, and he’s hopeful about recruiting. But the 49ers are 1-6 after Davidson pushed them around Halton Arena, 109-74, and nothing about the short run figures to start filling a gym that looked less than full Tuesday.

“My freshman year at Georgia Tech was the same situation. We took some lumps,” Price said. “It’s going to take work, a lot of work and more work. I’m used to that.”

Davidson is the precise, skilled bunch you expect from coach Bob McKillop about a quarter-century into his tenure there. The Wildcats make 3s (a striking 15-of-29 in Tuesday’s game) after patiently rotating the ball along the perimeter.

Long after Stephen Curry moved on to become last season’s NBA most valuable player (he sat behind the Wildcats’ bench Tuesday with his Golden State Warriors in town to play the Hornets on Wednesday), McKillop still has a program. In contrast, Price has a problem.

Price knew he inherited a team with little talent or the job wouldn’t have been available. Price craved the opportunity to be a head coach and 49ers athletics director Judy Rose saw something different in Price that appealed.

I know Price well from the two seasons he spent with the Bobcats/Hornets. I never once saw him cruise along as a former great player. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or anyone else wanted to launch some shots, Price was available to rebound and offer advice.

Price also will be good at closing the deal on recruits, simply on the pitch that every major-college basketball player aspires to end up in the NBA. Price knows what it takes to get there even if you lack ideal height or awesome ups.

Too many seasons of benign neglect means Price and his staff have to re-sell the whole concept; it’s been 10 years, after all, since the 49ers last qualified for the NCAA tournament. But for all the recent winning, McKillop can relate from his early years at Davidson.

“It was a nightmare – 4-24 (in 1989-90),” McKillop recalled. “I think Charlotte has a great person to get this thing rolling in Mark Price.”

There is a core of fans who still care, deeply so if given a reason. When the 49ers hit back-to-back 3s late in the first half to cut what had been a 26-point deficit to 14, the crowd behind press row erupted as ifCornbread Maxwell and Byron Dinkins were still playing.

Then the second half arrived and, well, Maxwell and Dinkins were nowhere to be found. The Wildcats didn’t just out-skill the 49ers, they out-athleted and out-hustled them. Guards Jack Gibbs (41 points) and Jordan Barham got to the rim with ease after halftime until Price called timeout down 32 with about 15 minutes left.

It’s too soon to tell what 5-0 Davidson will be, but a road game at North Carolina on Sunday and a Dec. 20 meeting with Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden could say a lot.

It’s easier to project where the 49ers are headed for now, as Price goes searching for some guys who who’ll show they hate to lose.

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