Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Former UVSC star Ronnie Price answers questions from the media after working out for the Utah Jazz.

Smaller school. Newer program. Inferior competition.

Ronnie Price, an NBA Draft prospect who auditioned Wednesday for the Jazz with the likes of reigning Conference USA Player of the Year Eddie Basden and 2004 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Julius Hodge, knows the rap.

So does his coach at Utah Valley State College, Dick Hunsaker.

"I'm not from a big school like a lot of these other guys," Price said after working out with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Basden, North Carolina State's Hodge and UNC-Greensboro's Josh Gross.

Four others — Providence's Ryan Gomes, UCLA's Dijon Thompson, Clemson's Sharrod Ford and Cincinnati's Jason Maxiell — show their stuff for the Jazz today.

"We know we're at Utah Valley," said Hunsaker, whose program jumped from junior-college roots to a full NCAA Division I schedule this past season.

"Ronnie's feet are on the ground," the UVSC coach added. "He's not inflated ego-wise. He understands there could be a school of hard knocks ahead."

Yet it's that very attitude that just might propel Price — who upon first impression sure seems like a class act — from the unlikeliest of beginnings to the NBA.

And for that, Hunsaker - the University of Utah's acting head coach during ex-Ute coach Rick Majerus' leave of absence in the 2000-01 season - can join in the bow.

"People are going to say, 'Aw, Utah Valley,' " Jazz basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor said. "(But) Dick Hunsaker has done a very good job coaching (Price), because he really understands the game."

It's not just what Price has learned, though, that has NBA scouts intrigued - and seriously considering the Friendswood, Texas, native a potential second-round selection in the June 28 draft.

The book on Price, who also has worked out for the Detroit Pistons, is that he shoots and scores; he averaged 24.3 points per game out of the point position as a UVSC senior, third nationally in NCAA Division I play. Standing somewhere between 6-foot-1 and 6-2, he has an NBA build. And he is said to be persistent to an extreme.

Imagine the determination of Eddie Gill, the Indiana Pacers guard from Weber State - Hunsaker's alma mater, by the way - who played 23 or fewer games in his first three NBA seasons but firmly established himself this season.

"I think (Price) is going to play in the league, somewhere, eventually," O'Connor said. "He's a terrific kid. . . . He could be a success story."

Those aren't just kind words to help hype the local kid, either.

The Jazz have three second-round draft picks and just might spend one on Price - depending, naturally, on who else is available at the time.

Hunsaker, meanwhile, gushes.

"He's got a little buzz about him," the UVSC coach said. "He's got a very positive image amongst NBA people right now.

"Ronnie - he has too much," added Hunsaker, who also has coached Ball State and in the CBA. "He's a live body. He has a burst in speed. He gets in that shot so well. Feedback I've gotten from a number of NBA personnel (is) they're so impressed with his physical strength and his body."

That would not have been said four-plus years ago, when Price took his then 5-11 frame to Nicholls (La.) State with hopes high but no scholarship in hand.

He transferred to UVSC the next season, barely earning junior college all-conference honorable mention. But, Hunsaker said, "Ronnie's your kid that's just gotten better. . . . His improvement has been dramatic for the three years I've had him."

Nearly three inches and 30 pounds later, Price feels NBA-ready. And if it doesn't happen in the coming season, there's always the next.

"He can be an NBA player," Hunsaker said. "The timeframe of that occurring . . . frankly, a lot of these workouts are going to be very influential."

At last month's Portsmouth Invitational, a camp and tourney for college seniors only, Price had a couple impressive games and one that didn't go so well.

"He had one tough shooting game back in Portsmouth," O'Connor said, "but he had a lot of 'good shots.' I mean, he didn't take 'bad shots' - they just didn't go in."

Should Price really make it, though, it won't merely be because of his shooting.

Hunsaker sees him as a combo guard - "You couldn't count 10 'pure' point guards that play in the NBA," he said - but O'Connor thinks that at not-quite 6-2 Price must distribute much more than in college.

"He'd have to have the assignment of the ball some of the time, or more than some of the time," the Jazz boss said, "if he's going to play in the league."

A scorer's mentality, O'Connor added, "is not the easiest thing to change, but he's not a selfish player."

Whatever it takes, Price suggested.

"That's for them - to tell me what I'm lacking," he said. "I mean, all I can do is just continue to fine-tune every aspect of my game and just hope to get everything to an A-plus level."

No matter the size of one's school, that's a seemingly sensible equation.

"You know, the game of basketball is always going to be the same game - regardless of where you're from or what you're name is," Price said. "So I'll just continue to play the game of basketball, which I love so much."


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