By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Do not feel sorry for Lloyd Price. That is what he would like to tell you before you read his twisted tale. No matter how unsettled his life might seem, he knows his own mistakes have led him to this point.
Lloyd Price and his wife, Andrea, are expecting a baby this month.|
(Patrick Reddy photo)
Price once was the most highly rated recruit in the history of Xavier University basketball; his attempt to resurrect his playing career ended last week when he dropped out of Kentucky Wesleyan College - his third university.
His return to the area was expected tonight, when Kentucky Wesleyan plays at Northern Kentucky University at 7:45 p.m. It turns out that won't happen. But Price, 23, doesn't want pity.
"I've still got light ahead of me," Price said. "It's not like I'm just sitting around. I'm having a baby soon, and I have a beautiful wife. I'm going to be fine."
Hyped from the start
He arrived at Xavier in August 1998, a can't-miss recruit from Wilmington, Del., who had played at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
Price was ranked the 24th-best high school player in the country, and his arrival was accompanied by the kind of hype that exceeded that of David West, Romain Sato or next season's top recruit, Churchill Odia. Price was exciting on the court and personable off it. He brought that unique combination of talent and charisma. He had aspirations of leaving Xavier early for the NBA.
It never worked out that way. Never came close.
By the end of his third season, Price had stopped paying attention to his academics and was hampered by a shoulder injury on the court. Coach Skip Prosser offered Price a chance to take summer classes to stay on track to graduate. Price declined. It was a hard decision for Prosser, but Price was released from his scholarship and dropped from the program.
"Lloyd was always a guy whose life was way too complicated," Prosser said. "We always told him he had to simplify his life. He was the type of guy who, rather than studying two hours for a test, would spend four hours trying to get out of the test. When he left Xavier, I told him I felt badly, but not guilty."
Price left Xavier in spring of 2001 and resurfaced in the fall at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Located in Teaneck, N.J., the Division I basketball program offered Price a chance to finish his college career near his home in Delaware and his new wife, Andrea, his high school sweetheart.
The situation was ideal for a second chance.
That all changed in November 2001, in one night Price doesn't even remember because he was so drunk.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2001, 15 hours after he robbed a Rocklins convenience store while holding a starter's pistol, Price woke up in a Teaneck jail cell, clueless as to why or how he got there.
"My mind was altered," Price said, "and I did things I can't take back. I was just in shock when they told me what I did."
He had started drinking the night before in his apartment with a friend. Just relaxing, having a few drinks. But they didn't stop. They kept drinking into the night until they hatched a plan to rob the convenience store down the street - the same store Price stopped at nearly every day, where he was known as a regular customer.
Price and his friend drove to the store and fitted their heads with nylon stockings. Price grabbed the starter's pistol, and they went inside.
Price pointed the pistol, which contained no bullets, at the clerk and demanded that she hand over the money in the cash register. She complied, giving up $750 in cash.
Price and his friend might have gotten away with the heist had it not been for what happened next: Price dropped the pistol on the floor, then removed the nylon stocking on his head so he could see the gun.
The clerk recognized Price immediately and knew where he lived. The robbers fled the scene and went back to Price's apartment. The hood of the car was still warm when police showed up to arrest them.
The legal saga that ensued forced Price to drop out of Fairleigh Dickinson.
Price was convicted of theft from a person, a crime that carries a maximum of five years in prison. Price figured he'd be spending all five of those years behind bars.
"The day we went in for sentencing, you would have thought Lloyd had one free throw for the national championship he was sweating so much," Price's attorney, Craig Weiss, said. "He was sweating profusely, and he told me, 'If it was just a free throw, I wouldn't be sweating like this.' "
Weiss had persuaded the store owner to testify on Price's behalf at the September 2002 sentencing in an effort to lessen the penalty.
"I don't think he was a bad person," storeowner Zipak Patell said. "I said, 'Give him a break, a second chance.' When I heard the whole story about how drunk he was and he was a good kid, I said, 'It was just a stupid thing kids do.' "
The judge sympathized with Price, a first-time offender. Price received probation and nothing more.
One last shot
The opportunity to play Division I basketball was over for Price. The only eligibility he had left was at the Division II level, or so he thought.
Former coaches Steve Smith at Oak Hill, and Prosser, who had moved on to Wake Forest, were willing to help Price find a good Division II program as long as he was serious about finishing school.
Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro, Ky., was not hard to find. The school had won nine Division II national championships, and coach Ray Harper had built a credible reputation in eight years at the school with the best active winning percentage (89.1) of any Division II coach entering this season.
"At first, Coach (Steve) Smith called, and I told him we weren't interested," Harper said. "Coach Smith called again and I said, 'I'm not interested.' Then Coach Prosser called two days later and talked about how good of a kid he was. So I listened."
Harper eventually offered Price a scholarship and helped him and Andrea find an apartment in Owensboro. Price was to begin his final season in November and would graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in the spring of 2005. Andrea was pregnant and due to give birth to a baby girl in late January. Their life was finally in order.
Then Price's comeback began to unravel. Four days before the season began, Harper told Price he might not be eligible this season because he didn't complete a semester at Fairleigh Dickinson, which the NCAA characterizes as an unfulfilled residency requirement.
Price knew he would have to miss a few games because of that, but he expected Fairleigh Dickinson to clear him of the unfulfilled requirement by Christmas.
But Fairleigh Dickinson refused to clear him, which meant Price had to sit out another year while taking classes.
The bottom line is that after all that, Price would have had just one semester of eligibility left. To maximize that opportunity, he would have had to attend classes this spring, not gone to school in the fall, then taken classes next spring while he played for the team.
Price found out all of this from Harper last Wednesday. Their conversation outside the practice gym was brief and ended with Price telling Harper he was leaving the team.
Later that night, Price told the Enquirer that he quit because he felt like Harper was interested only in Price's basketball talents, regardless of how it affected Price's desire to graduate in the spring of 2005.
"The hardest part is having people look in your face, knowing they don't care about you," Price says. "(Harper) cares about nobody but himself. They don't care. They just want you to play. They never even told me until (Dec. 31) that I wasn't going to be able to take classes next fall. Otherwise, I wanted to stay here."
Harper said he was giving Price a chance, his last chance, to return to college basketball. But the coach said Price's demeanor changed during the last month when it become more likely he would not play this season, and that Price had become a distraction on the team.
"I don't know what he wants to do," Harper said. "I don't think he does either. That's the problem."
Price admits his future is uncertain aside from becoming a father. He and Andrea want to move back east, to Delaware or North Carolina, near family, as soon as their daughter is born. He tries not to think about his missed opportunities. But they are so glaring it's hard not to, now that his college basketball career has ended so much less celebrated than it began. Still, he's optimistic.
"It's not the end of the world, by far," Price said. "If I was a narrow-minded boy like I was at Xavier, then it would be. I know it all comes back to me. If I stayed at Xavier and did what I had to do, I wouldn't be here. But I'm so low right now, I can't go anywhere but higher."
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