West Valley City • He dove on the Maverik Center floor several times for loose balls, played sticky man-to-man defense, hustled like a championship was on the line, came up with three steals and even drew a charge late in the game.
Ronnie Price, 36, the former Utah Valley University and Utah Jazz player, admitted to being “dog-tired” after playing 29 minutes in his first competitive full-court basketball game in more than two years.
But he never loafed, like might have been expected from a 12-year NBA veteran.
“I had so much fun, and enjoyed every second of it,” Price said, although No. 8 seed Team Utah fell 83-80 to No. 1 seed Eberlein Drive in the first round of the Salt Lake Regional of The Basketball Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
Team Utah, which featured former Utes such as Shaun Green, Tim Drisdom and Dakarai Tucker, almost pulled off a big upset, but went cold when the game entered the “Elam Ending” stage and lost its 73-69 lead. Price finished with nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and had three assists and four turnovers.
He said he will “definitely be back” next year.
“My cardio isn’t where it used to be, but this definitely got my blood flowing,” Price said. “Now that my body is healthy, I am definitely going to be in better condition next year. This was so much fun. I enjoyed being with those guys. Those are my brothers.”
Price spent four season with the Jazz (2007-11) and last played in the NBA during the 2016-17 season with the Phoenix Suns. He was a scout for the Suns last season, but has decided against pursuing a scouting or coaching career in the future.
“I tested out those waters and it is not really my cup of tea,” he said. “But I love basketball too much to be away from it totally, so we will see where it takes me.”
He hasn’t ruled out playing professionally again, now that a lingering calf injury that kept him off the court for the better part of two years has seemingly healed.
“If I am going to get back into playing again, I definitely have to do some soul searching and really get myself into better physical condition,” he said.
Price has three children, including 5- and 8-year-old boys who are just getting into basketball, and still lives in Utah. He still plays golf almost weekly with his former college coach at Utah Valley, Dick Hunsaker, who he has said is the best coach he’s ever had.
“We play golf together a lot,” Price said. “He’s better than I am, but don’t tell him I told you that.”
Green, who is the team’s general manager and scored a game-high 21 points, along with Tucker, said it wasn’t hard to persuade Price to join his team. Before Price’s calf injury, he played with a lot of former Jazz players and overseas pros at the Taylorsville Recreation Center and other courts around the valley.
“He was excited to play with us, so it wasn’t too hard of a process to get convince him to play,” Green said. “We were excited to have him.”
Tre Smith, the Cyprus High boys’ basketball coach who coached Team Utah on Thursday, said Price told him to treat him like any other player on the team.
“He told me he could play five minutes or 35 minutes, or anything in between,” Smith said. “He just let me coach him. It was a good opportunity for me to coach an NBA veteran.”
Eberlein Drive, which made it to the championship game last year, will play the L.A. Cheaters on Friday at 7 p.m. The Cheaters defeated UCLA-based Sons of Westwood 87-85 in Thursday’s second game behind 19 points from former Ute Sedrick Barefield, a late addition to the roster, and a game-winning dunk by Elijah Stewart.
Later Thursday, the Utah State-based Utah Stallions fell 72-66 to Challenge ALS, the No. 2 seed. Team Fredette — with former BYU coach Dave Rose coaching — downed CitiTeam Blazers 99-96 in the nightcap.
The Basketball Tournament
Eberlein Drive 83, Team Utah 80
L.A. Cheaters 87, Sons of Westwood 85
ALS Challenge 72, Utah Stallions 66
Team Fredette 99, CitiTeam Blazers 96