'Elvis' comes off Bullets bench, scores big with ticket-holders Rookie guard Price does play on 'King'

November 04, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Two weeks ago at a picnic for some 1,000 Washington Bullets season-ticket holders, rookie guard Brent Price entertained the crowd with an impersonation of Elvis Presley, singing "Don't Be Cruel."

"It comes natural," said Price, a native of Oklahoma, where he starred for the Sooners basketball team. "My mother had a great collection of Elvis records, and I grew up listening to 'The King,' although I never dressed like him.

"Actually, I've been singing on stages since I was 5, along with my brothers Mark and Matt, and my father, Denny. Until Mark joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, we had a gospel quartet singing four-part harmony that appeared all over Oklahoma. Back home, we've got a pretty good reputation."

These days, Brent Price is doing an even better job impersonating an NBA guard. A second-round draft pick, he elicited praise from the entire Bullets coaching staff for his impressive shooting, floor leadership and all-out hustle during training camp, before a groin pull sidelined him the past two weeks.

Even coach Wes Unseld, usually reluctant to single out individuals during the preseason, complimented Price, who bears a striking resemblance to his older brother Mark and plays the game with the same gusto.

"Before the draft," Unseld said, "we really concentrated on scouting the players we thought might be lottery picks since we had the sixth choice. So I really didn't watch a lot of tapes of Brent at Oklahoma. But from what I've seen so far, he's a much better player than I expected."

In fact, the Bullets were interested in securing a strong rebounding forward on the second round, but settled for Price after 6-foot-11 P. J. Brown of LSU and 6-foot-10 Sean Rooks of Arizona were chosen earlier.

But now Price appears to be a perfect fit as the backup to starter Michael Adams, a trouble spot for the Bullets last season whenever Adams was rested.

Price got his pro baptism against the defending champion Chicago Bulls in the first exhibition game and acknowledged a bad case of pre-game jitters.

"You've heard and read all this hype about Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and now, suddenly, you find yourself on the same floor with these superstars," he said. "But once I got out there and ran down the floor, the butterflies disappeared real quick."

Restricted to 10 minutes of action by his groin injury, Price made an instant impression by contributing eight points, four assists and four steals in the loss to the Bulls.

Price aggravated the injury and was held out of the last five

preseason games as a precautionary measure while receiving daily treatment from team doctors. But Monday, he rejoined the Bullets for a spirited three-hour workout at Bowie State, and was again diving for loose balls without fear of re-injuring himself.

The choirboy face and willowy frame belie the mental toughness Price, who will instinctively take a charge from a forward some 50 pounds heavier.

"When people hear you're a devout Christian, there seems to be a tendency to label you as being soft," he said. "Guys always want to test you different ways. But once you stand your ground, you gain their respect as a player and for your lifestyle."

Price credits his father, the head basketball coach at Phillips University in Enid, Okla., with teaching him how to play by word and example.

"My father is past 50, but when we're playing two on two with my brothers, he'll elbow me or make sure I don't get an uncontested shot. He convinced me that there are a lot of great natural athletes who never make it in the NBA because they just don't put in the effort."

With his father coaching in Oklahoma, and Mark and Brent in rival NBA cities, the gospel singing has been put on hold. But Elvis is always there, lurking in the shadows.

* Free-agent guard Doug Overton of La Salle continues to play the 13th-man role for the Bullets, and Unseld is uncertain how the situation will be resolved. If the team follows a bottom-line philosophy, the 12 players with guaranteed contracts will remain, barring a trade. But Unseld said: "Doug has definitely shown he deserves to play in this league. If not here, somewhere."

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