Oklahoma men's Basketball trainer Alex Brown calls Hollis Price by the nickname Biggie, and not just because Price, a slight, 6'1" junior shooting guard, looks like a tall 12-year-old and likes the music of the late rapper Biggie Smalls. "Hollis is a big-time player," says Brown. "He's not a big, strong kid, but mentally he's as tough as they come."
Consider what Price went through last season. After playing much of the year with a groin pull, he nearly severed the ulnar nerve in his right (shooting) arm when he collided with Indiana State's Kelyn Block during the Sooners' 70-68 first-round NCAA tournament loss. The resulting triceps tendon tear required three operations—including one to remove a piece of one of Block's teeth—and four months to heal, but, says Price, "it made me a better shooter because it made me focus more." Early this season he missed a game after he was poked in the eye during practice, but he found a bright side in that experience too. "Anytime I sit on the bench, I find myself coaching, and that's what I'd like to do eventually," he says. "There's always something to learn from the sideline."
Aside from the occasional freak injury, the perpetually positive Price doesn't spend much time riding the pine. Although his right arm still gets so stiff that he has to warm up for at least 30 minutes before he can play, he was shooting 52.6% from the field and 45.8% from three-point range through Sunday, for a team-leading 17.5 points a game—all career highs. Price scored 27 points, hitting six of seven three-pointers last Saturday to lead the fifth-ranked Sooners (13-1) to a 98-72 victory over Texas Tech.
"You know how you blow up a balloon and then let the air out, and it flies all over the place?" says Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson. "That's Hollis on the court. If he isn't leading us in scoring, he's doing a lot of other things to help us win. There isn't a single thing he's not good at."
Price found salvation in sports at an early age while growing up in the tough Desire housing development in New Orleans. His maternal grandparents raised him while his mother struggled with a drug problem and was in and out of jail. Price's father, a former Grambling quarterback, and mother were never married. "A lot of my friends did bad things to get the material things they wanted," says Price, "but I was lucky to have a grandfather who talked to me every day after school about wrongs and rights. That's what kept me straight." (Price and his mother, who is now out of jail and off drugs, talk regularly and spend holidays together.)
After leading St. Augustine High to a Class 5A state championship and his AAU team in Shreveport—a four-hour bus ride away—to a national title, Price considered signing with Texas. He chose Oklahoma because he wanted to play with All-America forward Eduardo Najera, who's in his second year with the Dallas Mavericks. "Eduardo showed me how to be a leader and what playing with heart was all about," says Price. "I attribute a lot of my hard play to him."
Giving credit where it's due is another category in which Price comes up big. After eating a pregame meal or receiving a new pair of sneakers, he always thanks the coaching staff. "Hollis never takes anything for granted," says senior guard Michael Cano. "He's arguably the best player on the team, yet he claps the hardest and cheers the loudest for others."
Adds Sampson, "He's the kind of player you don't get to coach often. When senior night comes next year, I know I'm going to cry to see him go. The kid is all heart."