Friday, February 27, 2015

After Long Journey, The Price Is Right

In a world where youth basketball's murky underworld of street agents, fake promises, brown paper bag money and back alley deals are far and wide, Eric Price's story is an original.

As an eighth grader, the D.C.-bred Price had already carved his niche as a prodigious wunderkind.

He was in a category of his own. Placing him in age-appropriate leagues would be straight up cruel to the other kids.

Price's advanced skill-set, laced with an arsenal of spin moves and sustained flashes of freakish athleticism, enabled his game to blossom.

 The flash and purity of his game had the potency to shut playgrounds down entirely. At age 14, he was already on the radar of high major Division-1 coaches and talent evaluators.

 Price's early impact was akin to a prodigal YouTube Sensation, well before the days of YouTube.

College coaches across the country jockeyed for a crack at Price, who generated mega-buzz with the nationally fierce Blue Devils on the AAU circuit.

Playing alongside Ty Lawson, Roy Hibbert, Donte Cunningham, a lineup of surefire future stardom, Price's squad won three AAU national championships.

 Division-I players were spread across the roster on this memorable squad. Beyond the aforementioned future NBAers, those considered "stars" at their respective schools were reduced to role players.

Several of D.C.'s elite, easily starters on any other program in the country, fought for a meaningless little spurt of burn.

 Price's early prowess emerged during an unrivaled epoch of D.C. basketball prosperity.

"Eric Price was," said Jeremy Baker, the former Quinnipiac guard and Price's teammate during the Blue Devils years, "one of the most transcendent talents of our time. He could do it all."

An incoming golden boy, symbolic of DC's grass-roots prestige, Price possessed the clout of Lebron and Felipe Lopez in high school.

AAU coaches hounding Price. Middle men plunked down cash and bribes. The rising tension between multiple high school and AAU coaches created an ugly sideshow. Thus, there were plenty of potholes along Price's sojourn into young stardom.

 Reneging on an early commitment to John Calipari and Memphis, Price endured a bumpy ride.

The story of Price's rise and fall, however, has as much to do with a shady environment. The severe lack of proper guidance helped Price's career spiral downhill.

"I had seen it before, and Eric Price was the latest victim of adults trying to use a child," said Walter Ray, the founder and president of EGOS (Education, Goals, Opportunities and Sports), a D.C.-based non-profit geared to help inner-city youth thrive through academics and athletics.

"I felt bad for the kid, because I knew the adults around him did not have his best interest at heart," explained Ray.

 "I knew the nature of the adults around him. They were rotten, then and now. If something ever went wrong, if Eric didn't make it big, they would be gone like the frauds that they were. It was a prime example of adults exploiting a kid in basketball. Different circus, same clowns."

While Price flamed out in a campus-to-campus basketball odyssey, his unique path has created a detour back to his D.C. roots.

He's committed, he said, to helping shape the youth on a workaday basis.

ZS: Your journey is kind of two-fold. On one hand, you were being heaped with lavished praise and anointed as a surefire NBA prospect before you even reached high school. 

You didn't take the path that was envisioned. Yet on the other side, you are doing what you love as a CEO, teacher, and molder of youth. Ultimately, your story can teach life lessons. How do you sum it all up? Did God choose this path for you? Did it all work out for the best?

EP:  That is very true. Two fold is the perfect description. To sum it up, "God always saves his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers." I grew up in the church with a praying grandmother, who is currently attending UDC to obtain a Master's Degree. She is 77.

Resiliency runs deep in my family as well as God. I think it truly happened for the best. I believe God put me in this position because I'm very influential and respected in the DMV area.

ZS: What are some of the pressures you faced? What were the negatives of experiencing too much, too soon? How did the game help you and how did it hurt you?

EP:  Man, that's simple. I simply didn't know what I was doing at the time. I realized now, having talent in anything as an adolescent just makes you grow up faster than your brain can develop or process in actuality what's going on. You do things you see, and mimic them, because your brain is simply unable to differentiate good intentions from bad ones.

In my case, the things I saw and heard for the most part, they didn't come from purity. That's for sure. Honestly, the game didn't hurt me one bit. If anything, I got so much out of basketball including life skills, and a great education. I can relate to my workplace directly with basketball, so it's actually a blessing.

ZS: Through your youth days and with the Blue Devils on the AAU circuit, you redefined the "man-child" term in D.C. and beyond. If you got to pick and choose, what would you want to be remembered for?

EP : I want to be remembered most about my desire to never give up, no matter what people say or try to do to you. To whom much is given, much is expected. I want to be remembered for living by that. The late Stuart Scott always said, "Don't give up, don't ever give up."

That speech in the ESPYS had me in tears because it was like he was in my living room speaking to me.

ZS: You faced adversity beyond the game, beyond the street agents, beyond those guys who are typically more vested in their own best interest in the prodigious young talent they claim to be guiding. How did making it out of the Sursum Corda's projects shape you for life's challenges?

 EP: When I'm asked this question, I always smile. "If you can make it out of the 
Cordas, you can make it anywhere." 

Those are the first words of my autobiography entitled  "Full Court Press: A Young Badketball Players Prodigy Journey." I am a coauthor.

 Susraum Cordas is a mixture of everything good and bad. So for one., it humbles you. Yet it makes you strong to stay humble but grounded. Wanting to get money (hustle) in my case (basketball), a desire to get rewarded (scholarships) in their case money cars and clothes. Susie Corda made
things I experienced in the basketball world, a piece of cake.

ZS: What are some of the dangers and downfalls of the business aspect of AAU?

EP: I think AAU is actually good.

 It's not the system it's the people in it. You get to travel, compete, experience things you may never see otherwise. But it becomes a problem when high school coaches vs. AAU coaches comes into play. They compete for you and are suddenly questioning your loyalty to the programs. That's when it becomes really confusing. Well, at least in my case.

ZS:  What are some situations in which coaches tried to control you or profit off of you?

EP:  I've had coaches personally tell me that if I played AAU and didn't play summer league for my prospective school, that I would never attend Duke. Anybody who knows me knows that I was going to play for Coach K. I went to visit there in the eighth grade.

I also committed to play for John Calipari at the University of Memphis as a high school sophomore.

Coach Cal thought it was odd when I called him months following my verbal commitment to denounce it. My high school coach (Joe Mantegna at Blair Academy in N.J.) said basically if I wanted to play for him next season, I had to de-commit from Memphis because coach Calipari is supposedly "a bad guy."

I still love coach Cal to this day and didn't know he was being hated on.

Yeah, it's that dirty of a game. Coach Cal probably still doesn't know what happened to me and questioned my commitment.

(shakes his head, pauses).

I've also had Nike deliver big trucks of shoes and clothing to my neighborhood. Envelopes of cash, cars, you name it. Those were normal things for the top athletes in the country to have.

ZS: Has all those false promises and manipulation made you less trusting of people?

EP: Funny you say that. Now as an adult, I realize I don't trust people. Sometimes that hurts me because there are some genuine people in my corner that actually care.

ZS: What are some the main points you want to illustrate and teach to young athletes who could face the same situation?

EP: Just to learn to be self-sufficient. You will notice when people start monitoring your success, they will hate. Becoming a CEO and a leader of young men I was conscious that throughout history, leaders are not very well liked.  And I'm willing to accept that.

ZS: What were some of the main issues you dealt with and what could be done to rectify some of the problems?

EP: Like I said before, it's the people not the system. The solution is just to get more qualified people who genuinely love the kids. The ones who want to teach them and not use them for monetary gain. It's a growing epidemic in this nation. That's why I founded PowerSchool.

ZS: What were some of the benefits you received and temptations you dealt with at a young age?

EP: That's simple. I could do, simply, whatever I wanted. Say what I wanted. First class plane tickets. Luxury hotels. Being on the Jay Leno show with Roy Hibbert. Being in Sports Illustrated for kids and more. I could test any Nike shoe I wanted or request it for myself. I even helped out with input to which Nike shoes were hot and not.

ZS: What are some of the main points you deliver and bedrock principles you preach to your students, how do you provide proper guidance after being misled by so many?

EP: Be persistent. Don't feel sorry for yourself because no one else will. Being misled helps you teach children that it can happen. So, I provide them with the necessary tools to be prepared. I'm lucky to have the students and vice versa. And luck is simply when opportunity meets preparation. And they deserve for me to give that to them so that in life, they become naturally lucky.

Have you ever known someone and said, "Man, they are lucky. Something good is always happening to them. It's no coincidence.

ZS: What is the focus of the upcoming book and what exactly is the book about?

EP: Kristin White, who is the author of the best-seller, "The Gap Year," did a great job at tackling deeply-rooted issues beyond the comprehension of me and you. It's a great read. It's gonna be awesome and in my eyes, it has NY Times best seller potential.

ZS: What was your relationship like with Sonny Vaccaro and (Nike representative) Don Crenshaw?

EP: Great with both of them. I went to Sonny's house (in L.A.), got into his pool, met his wife. He invited me there every summer to chill before ABCD camp. What Crenshaw taught me was to be strong with life after basketball.