Charlotte turns to former NBA star Mark Price for basketball turnaround

Braxton Ogbueze was born in 1993. This is the fact the Charlotte 49ers guard uses to explain why he had never heard of his new basketball coach when he was hired earlier this year.

Ogbueze hadn’t heard of his coach’s four All-Star appearances, his retired Cleveland Cavaliers number, his career .9039 free-throw shooting (second all-time), or how he had a reputation for having some of the best shooting mechanics in the NBA when he played in the league 1986-98.

The first time Ogbueze heard of Mark Price was when Charlotte announced it was giving Price his first real head coaching position after eight years as an assistant coach for a string of NBA teams.

“But he was a big-time ball player,” Ogbueze discovered after doing some research. “It was a blessing that he was taking the job.”

Price, the little point guard from Georgia Tech best-known for his nine years with the Cavaliers, considered it a blessing when Charlotte reached out to him, too. He’d spent years as a skill development and assistant coach in the NBA, helping pros master and perfect their shooting form, and he happened to be an assistant coach with the Hornets when the 49ers top position opened.

Charlotte called to see if he was interested, and he decided to give it a closer look.

“I’d never been over to the campus when they first talked to me,” Price said. “I had no idea how nice it was, the facilities they have here. As we talked, it seemed like a really, really good fit.”

He didn’t have to uproot his family, which includes four children and his youngest son, who is a sophomore in high school. And truth be told, Price’s demeanor might be best-suited for guiding college-aged players instead of the pros in the NBA. He’s always been known as a family man and a quiet perfectionist, someone just as concerned about molding the off-the-court aspect of players.

“Their parents hand them over, and they’re kind of your responsibility. I feel like in a lot of ways, I’ve got 13 more sons now,” Price said. “And I’m the dad to the family. I’m just enjoying building relationships with them as we try to build this program.”

It’s a program that has struggled in the last 10 years, with just three NIT appearances in that stretch. But Price saw the success that came from 1994-2005, when Charlotte made eight trips to the NCAA Tournament. He knows it can be done again.

“It’s obviously going to be harder than maybe at some other places, but I certainly think it can be done,” he said. “They got to the Final Four in 1977. It just takes one or two of the right kind of players at this level to get you to where you need to get to.”

The problem is finding and retaining those players. After Price was hired, players scattered; ones on the roster transferred, and recruits decommitted. When the exodus was complete, Charlotte was left with five players on the roster.

Price had to find replacements, but he was only going to do it by sticking to his famously high standards.

“There’s a way we’re going to do things, a culture we’re going to set for the program, and if you don’t want to come in and buy in, you’re not the kind of young man we want to have here,” he said. “I’ve just been around the game too long as a player and a coach and know that the locker room and your team chemistry is so important in this game. If you have one or two guys who are kind of troublemakers, so to speak, or make things difficult, I think it’s really hard to be successful in the long run.”

One of the players who joined the team was his eldest son, Hudson, who transferred from TCU. Another was freshman Andrien White, who liked Price’s “quiet, laid-back” style when he was being recruited.

White also liked Price’s reputation for successful player development -- and his reputation for precise shooting when the coach was a player, too.

Sometimes, Price will still put up shots with his players. White has never seen him miss more than five shots at a time.

“It’s an art watching him shoot,” White said. “He doesn’t get out there much and shoot, but while we’re stretching or something, all eyes are on him. Sometimes we get distracted by him shooting. We’ll be like, ‘Wow, is he going to miss today?’”

Price is able to use what he knows about the mechanics of shooting to teach his players, too.

“He can look at your jump shot and see a million things wrong with it,” Ogbueze said. “And not only see what’s wrong with it, but help you fix it.”

That’s the reputation Price had as a longtime assistant coach in the NBA. And successful careers in college (two-time All-American, four-time All-ACC) and the NBA — along with his contacts in the league — is something that has helped in recruiting.

“I think it’s gotten me in the doors, maybe, a lot of places,” Price said. “I’m getting an opportunity to talk to a lot of young men that Charlotte might not have been able to get into before. … [And] once they step on this campus and see what we have to offer, they don’t leave thinking mid-major. They leave thinking this is a big-time opportunity.”

Above: Mark Price was an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets before being named head coach of the 49ers. (Courtesy Getty Images)

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