Joe Davidson

Why ‘basketball will never be the same without Larry’ for Elk Grove High girls

Elk Grove girls basketball coach Larry Price talks with his players before a loss to Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs Feb. 20. Price died Monday in Sacramento, he was 61.
Elk Grove girls basketball coach Larry Price talks with his players before a loss to Granite Bay in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs Feb. 20. Price died Monday in Sacramento, he was 61.

The plan was to rest this spring and summer and to rev up for another season.

Larry Price was going to coach again, on his terms, without the motorized cart and oxygen tank in tow.

Price never got that chance.

Elk Grove High School's beloved girls basketball coach died after an artery burst in his lung, leading to cardiac arrest early Monday morning at a south Sacramento hospital, rocking current and past players he fondly called "my girls" and area coaches who grew to appreciate his coaching ways. He was 61.

A two-time Bee Coach of the Year, Price led with all manner of an iron fist. His assistant coaches never left their seats. Price was at the forefront. He coached his players hard and loved them up just as much, a big man big on compliments, knowing that a pat on the back was a powerful motivator.

The Detroit native was known to coach to the point sweat trickled off his chin. His wife, Cindy, always had towels ready. Price grew ill over the summer when he contracted pneumonia, a serious fungal infection ravaging his lungs. He lost 60 pounds but regained enough strength and spirit to resume coaching after being cleared by doctors and his wife to do so.

Price's final game was in February, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II loss at Granite Bay in which he embraced players and promised that "better days are ahead."

Cindy Price was by her husband's side to the end. They met years ago at a basketball game, Price working his charm and inviting her to coffee, though he never drank the stuff.

"My best friend, my everything, and we never got our coffee," Cindy said. "He had such a big heart. He cared about everyone. His passion was family, basketball and Detroit. His personality was bigger than life."

"Such a sad day," Elk Grove High principal Cathy Guy said Monday, an hour after meeting with the team. "He brought the best out of his players. He was a special guy."

"It's a real shocker," Elk Grove assistant coach David Crawford added. "He and I were ready to talk about next season's plans. He lived for this team. It kept his engine going, and he needed the girls. The girls had grown so fond of him."

Said sophomore guard Maile Williams, Price's best player this season, "He's different from all the coaches I've had. He pushed me to be mentally tougher and encouraged me to be a leader. He believed in me. I can't thank him enough."

Price said before his last game, "I'm good, good. I'll be fine. Before, basketball needed me. I need basketball now. I need these kids. This keeps me going."

Price doubled as a state parole agent for the California Department of Corrections. His mornings included helping lost souls navigate their way back into society.

"Real life," as Price told The Bee, adding, "We try to get them back into education, give them a foundation, give them a chance."

Coaching basketball afforded Price a change of pace, saying, "Being with this team here, this gets me away from (corrections). It gives me an opportunity to live this life, to help these kids, and I love it."

Price led Florin to two CIF Northern California playoff appearances and drove Elk Grove to the CIF State Division II finals in 2016 as a No. 12 seed. His star player, Mira Shulman, was The Bee's Player of the Year. She now attends UC Santa Barbara and was crushed to hear of her mentor's passing.

"Larry and I had a rocky start, but of course, he grew on me," Shulman said. "He wore his emotions on his sleeve. He believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. He was all about his girls."

Sacramento High coach Michele Massari said she learned a lot from Price, even in defeat. Said St. Francis coach Vic Pitton, "He loved his players and always got them to play together as a team and compete at the highest levels. He will be missed. Life is fragile."

Former Herd star Paiton Demps added, "Basketball will never be the same without Larry."

Price was one of eight children raised by a single mother. Sports offered a safe outlet as a child, he once said, with chaos lurking at every street corner. He figured he would live a long life, as his grandmothers lived until 104 and 110 and his mother into her 90s.

“My upbringing in Detroit sticks with me, forever,” Price told The Bee. “I didn’t have a father growing up. My extended family was the Boys & Girls Club, the recreation leagues. I had youth coaches who helped me go on the right path, saved me.”