NORMAN, Okla. — Under most circumstances, Oklahoma senior guard Hollis Price could think of plenty of other destinations he'd rather visit than New Orleans. Especially around spring break in his final year of college. Not that the Big Easy isn't a fine destination. It's just that Price was born and raised there. Not really much that he hasn't seen.
Doesn't matter. Price, the best player on an Oklahoma basketball squad that features an embarrassment of riches, is hoping to head home in April. Truth be known, under the right conditions, there's no where on earth the 23-year-old Sooner star would prefer to go than right back to his old stomping grounds to play the final games of his collegiate career.
Naturally, he'd like to take some friends. Most notably Sooner teammate Quannas White. White, after all, is a New Orleans boy himself. He too, would love to go home. N'awlins in April. That's what it's all about.
There was a time when Price was only interested in leaving New Orleans. Same with White. By the time the two closed out their senior season at St. Augustine — a school that has produced NBA players Avery Johnson, Kerry Kittles and Donald Royal — with the Class 5A state championship, the highly-recruited backcourt mates could have stayed close to family and friends while playing their college ball. Tulane was right there in New Orleans and Louisiana State was just an hour north in Baton Rouge. But both wanted out.
Long before the pair of future Sooners teamed at St. Aug, Price's name had long been known in New Orleans hoops circles. By eighth-grade, Price was already being tabbed as a sure-fire prep star. So, when White's Fannie C. Williams middle-school squad went head-to-head with Price's middle school, Livingston, reputations were on the line. As it turned out, both made out pretty well.
"We just meshed," said White. "We looked forward to playing together."
It's amazing it hadn't happened sooner. They lived just blocks away, both growing up in the projects of the Big Easy. Price lived in the Desire housing development, but his area of town is better known as the Ninth Ward. To this day, when Price is quizzed about any number of things — from where he learned his crossover to how he knew how to pick a lock when his keys were once locked in his bedroom to why he still thanks his coach for the food after every pregame meal — he'll answer, "The Ninth Ward."
A tough neighborhood with little money and lots of concrete defines the Ninth Ward. Raised by his maternal grandparents, George Carraby and Ann Dennis, Price was able to avoid the pitfalls many of his friends weren't — gangs, drugs, crime, living on the streets.
Actually, the fact that there is now such a strong desire to return to New Orleans means things have changed quite a bit in the lives of Price and White since they left. And they're far from alone in hoping their hometown is a future destination. Basically, every player on every NCAA men's college basketball team wants to end up in the Big Easy in April.
The thing is, very few of them have a realistic shot at making the trip. That's not the case for Price. He's led the Sooners to the Final Four before. He loves the challenge of going there again. And that mean's going home. New Orleans is the site of the 2002-2003 men's Final Four.
Everything is falling into place. It's as if it was scripted. Senior year. Price and White as teammates and the Final Four is in their hometown.
"Back in high school, we used to joke about playing together in college and playing in the Final Four," said White, who spent two seasons at Midland (Texas) Community College before joining Price at OU. "But that was back when the Fab Five was big, so we talked about doing it at Michigan."
Instead they did it at OU. Now they want to do it again. At home. And make no mistake, home holds Price's attention.
Call it Ninth Ward pride. Maybe, as the cliché suggests, home is where the heart is. In the case of Price and White, it happens to be where the Final Four is.
OU backcourt hoping for happy homecoming
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