Archdeacon: Longtime coach leaving Sinclair, but Price won’t soon be forgotten

JEFF 1 – Sinclair Community College basketball coach and athletics director Jeff Price (center, black shirt) is surrounded by some of his former players and a few of his fellow coaches Friday at a good-bye tribute to him outside the school’s gymnasium. With sports suspended at Sinclair since the pandemic hit in March of 2020 – and with seasons already cancelled for the 2021-22 school year – Price is leaving Monday to become the associate head coach at the University of Central Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school  in Conway, Arkansas. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
JEFF 1 – Sinclair Community College basketball coach and athletics director Jeff Price (center, black shirt) is surrounded by some of his former players and a few of his fellow coaches Friday at a good-bye tribute to him outside the school’s gymnasium. With sports suspended at Sinclair since the pandemic hit in March of 2020 – and with seasons already cancelled for the 2021-22 school year – Price is leaving Monday to become the associate head coach at the University of Central Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school in Conway, Arkansas. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

It was a heartfelt send-off for Jeff Price, who is leaving Sinclair Community College – where he’s been the successful head basketball coach for 18 years and an honored athletics director for eight – to become the associate head basketball coach at the University of Central Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school in Conway, Arkansas.

More than a dozen former players showed up Friday for the midday gathering in the concourse outside of the school’s gymnasium. Former Tartan coaches, referees, school administrators and friends were there, too.

There was a bouquet of balloons, a large decorated cake and a few glowing tributes offered from a podium set up next to an electronic slide show of photographs.

But as all this was going on, I couldn’t help but feel some sadness, as well.

Sinclair suspended its athletics programs in March of 2020 when the COVID 19 pandemic hit. The school has kept them in hibernation since and last month announced it would extend the suspension through the 2021-22 seasons.

The school said it is studying the viability of sports and there is a belief by many that it will permanently drop athletics.

In media releases, Sinclair president Steven Johnson has cited the cost of maintaining COVID protocols as a big reason for the hiatus, but you could argue the school’s return on its sports participations more than offsets that.

There has been no better, no higher and more public banner profiling Sinclair success than its athletics teams, especially baseball, coached by Steve Dintaman, and basketball piloted by Price.

I’m sad Price is leaving because he’s my friend.

But, more importantly, it’s too bad that student athletes no longer will be able to experience that special brand of Sinclair basketball under Price. While his teams were perennial winners on the court – in 17 seasons he compiled a 307-203 record – their experiences and influence reached far beyond the gymnasium, into the community and even further with their annual trips to places like Washington D.C.

And I’m sad for the folks here in town who benefitted from Sinclair basketball’s involvements, including those the Tartans helped feed at the annual Thanksgiving Feast of Giving at the Dayton Convention Center, the aging veterans they sought out on their regular trips to the VA Center, the ailing youngsters at Dayton Children’s Hospital, awestruck kids at the Boys and Girls Club and the times they answered phones at the annual MDA Telethon.

The Sinclair men’s basketball team gathers around Dr, Stephen Levitt, (red shirt ) co-chair of Feast of Giving celebration and Jeff Price (black jacket, red trim) head coach of Sinclair Tartan Pride. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The Sinclair men’s basketball team gathers around Dr, Stephen Levitt, (red shirt ) co-chair of Feast of Giving celebration and Jeff Price (black jacket, red trim) head coach of Sinclair Tartan Pride. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Price was named the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2016 and the league’s athletics director of the year in 2015 and 2017.

He’s had 75 players go on to play basketball at a four-year schools and seven have played professionally overseas. Three were National Junior College Athletic Association All Americans, five were NJCAA Academic All Americans and three became OCCAC Players of the Year.

His most celebrated player probably is Sean McNeil, who led the nation in scoring while at Sinclair three years ago and was recruited by numerous Power 5 schools.

He just finished his junior year at West Virginia, where this past season he had several big games – 26 against Texas Tech, 24 versus Kansas, 23 on Syracuse and 21 against both Florida and Oklahoma – and won All Big 12 honorable mention recognition. He has declared for the NBA draft, but likely will opt to return to the Mountaineers for his senior season.

While I witnessed several of McNeil’s big games at Sinclair and have seen him play in person once at West Virginia, the memory of him I especially like was from three Thanksgivings ago when he helped feed those in need at the convention center.

That day the senior citizens and those mothers with little children in tow didn’t know or care that he was a deadly three-point shooter. They were just happy that he showed them kindness and got them another piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

When Price came to Sinclair – after spending 10 years at Davis and Elkins, a small NCAA Division II school in West Virginia, and then a season at Earlham – he served three years as an assistant on Paul Bryant’s Tartan staff and then took over the program in 2003.

“Once I got my feet wet, I realized we need to do more for our student athletes at this level,” he once told me. “It couldn’t be just basketball. They deserve more from us.”

The athletes Sinclair often got had been bypassed by four-year schools or had left other schools and just needed another chance. Some needed help with their academics, a few were older and already working jobs and had families of their own.

All needed a place to help them build a foundation for their future, be it on the court or off.

“As a coach, our job here is a little different than at a Division I school,” he’s told me. “It’s not just about “win, win, win.” If you look at it with that single vision – that it’s only about the results on the scoreboard – I believe you’re in the wrong profession.

“Our job is to instill some thought on what’s going to happen next: ‘How am I going to go on and be a productive young citizen?’”

Along with myriad involvements he orchestrated for his players locally, he also took them on annual trips, where they’d play a couple of games and then delve into eye-opening, off the court experiences in places like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and down at the University of North Carolina and Duke.

On one of those trips down South they put on a basketball clinic at a US naval base and toured an active nuclear sub.

Sinclair Community College Mens Basketball Coach Jeff Price talks to his 13-0 team before defeating Wittenberg’s JV team 84-70 on Monday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Sinclair Community College Mens Basketball Coach Jeff Price talks to his 13-0 team before defeating Wittenberg’s JV team 84-70 on Monday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

“It all started when I got the crazy idea, ‘Let’s go to the White House!’” he said the other day. “You always see teams who won national titles going there, but I figured you shouldn’t have to win a championship to go. The White House is for everyone.

“The way I saw it: ‘Hey, you never know until you ask.’ We wanted out student athletes to understand that some ideas seem out of reach – until you reach.”

Some years back he reached out to then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, for some help on a D.C. trip and soon the Southwest Ohio congressman had them in his office and into the House balcony.

“And the Capitol police, God Bless them, actually took us on the floor of the House and we sat in the representatives’ seats,” Price said.

On their various D.C. trips – where the team scrimmaged or played games against teams like Georgetown and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis – they also toured the White House and Supreme Court, visited the memorials and spent hours taking to vets on the amputee ward at Walter Reed Hospital.

In Philadelphia – in order to get an idea of an Ivy League campus – they toured Penn, practiced at the Palestra and visited places like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell while also stopping at Geno’s for cheesesteaks.

“When we’d go to D.C, there’d be some guys who thought they might be too cool to go the White House,” Price said. “But once they got in there, they’d all be like ‘Holy smokes, this is pretty neat!’”

As he liked to explain it: “It’s always about the pixie dust.”

He said if you sprinkle enough of it, the magic finally takes hold.

Yet, for all the trips he took and the big games he won, Price said his favorite moments were graduation:

“I know it might sound geeky, but I love graduation. That’s the icing on the cake for us. You were able to get a young person in and help them achieve goals. Watching them graduate, those are the really proud moments.

“I think of someone like Kevin Vest, who came to us from Carroll High and then went on to Tusculum. He met his wife here. She played on the women’s basketball team. Now they have a couple of kids. He was part of our family and now we’re part of his. That’s a connection that lasts a lifetime.”

JEFF 2 -- – Sinclair Community College basketball coach and athletics director Jeff Price is flanked by former player Kevin Vest (left), who went on from Sinclair to play at Tusculum University in eastern Tennessee and Kevin’s dad, Mark Vest, who was a Hall of Fame player at Wright State University. Several former Sinclair players, coaches, school administrators, referees and friends of the Tartans' program gathered Friday outside the school's gym to give Price a sendoff. After 21 years at the school, he leaves Monday to become the associate head coach at the University of Central Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school  in Conway, Arkansas. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
JEFF 2 -- – Sinclair Community College basketball coach and athletics director Jeff Price is flanked by former player Kevin Vest (left), who went on from Sinclair to play at Tusculum University in eastern Tennessee and Kevin’s dad, Mark Vest, who was a Hall of Fame player at Wright State University. Several former Sinclair players, coaches, school administrators, referees and friends of the Tartans' program gathered Friday outside the school's gym to give Price a sendoff. After 21 years at the school, he leaves Monday to become the associate head coach at the University of Central Arkansas, an NCAA Division I school in Conway, Arkansas. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

Price leaves Monday for Central Arkansas, but Friday he had nothing but praise for Sinclair:

“I had a really great run here. I appreciate the opportunities Sinclair gave me and I especially appreciate the student athletes I got to coach. It was an honor

“I owe it all to the players. They did the heavy lifting.

“I just coached the team and sometimes drove the van.”

That’s not the case, but even if it was, you’ve got to admit:

He took them on a great ride.

As he concluded his remarks Friday, Price looked out at his former players, the assistant coaches and the rest of the Tartan family that had gathered for his farewell and said quietly:

“I hope I will honor you and make you all proud.”

That’s not an issue.

He already has.