After illness, suspension, Price expected to lead UConn

Originally Published: September 15, 2006
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

STORRS, Conn. -- Two years have passed since the two-week period A.J. Price will never forget, but still can't actually remember.

This week, Price is doing the exact same things he was then, when he was about to start his college basketball career at Connecticut before his hoops season -- and nearly his life -- was ended by a brain abnormality.

Price is back on campus, working out, playing pickup ball, getting ready for the season. He is running the court, calling out plays, beating his defender for layups, knocking down jumpers and dumping off passes to one of the Huskies' newcomers.

He is, according to UConn coach Jim Calhoun, one of the top point guards in the country, and could be in the NBA in 2007-08.

Yet, Price hasn't played in a college game yet, despite entering his third year academically. He still was shut down medically last season, in addition to being suspended for the year for his role in the theft and attempted sale of laptops on campus and subsequent false statements to police.

"It feels like I've been gone for four years," Price said.

Now, every day Price walks out onto the Gampel Pavilion court, he said he thinks back to Sept. 27, 2004. That's the last time he remembers anything before the events that unfolded over the subsequent two weeks.

"I had flu-like symptoms, and then I don't remember anything," Price said. "I was in a state of total drugness with the bleeding in my head. From Sept. 27 to Oct. 14, I was completely gone. I don't remember those days."

Price was admitted to Hartford Hospital on Oct. 4, 2004, after he had been in his room, apparently delirious, from Sept. 28 to that date.

"I was just [laying] there," Price said.

Price was suffering from AVM, known formally as arteriovenous malformations, an abnormal collection of blood vessels in the brain. The vessels bled, causing a headache, and as the Columbia University Medical Center Web site says, can cause "a stroke or even death."

"It was life and death," Calhoun said of thinking back to those two weeks. "I remember calling his father, Tony, and telling him that everything was going to be all right. I thought it would be, but over those next 14-15 days, I wasn't sure it would be OK. It's hard to believe that he's back."

Price said he didn't have a hemorrhage, as was widely speculated at the time.

"They caught it before that," Price said.

Price said that Dr. Arthur Day of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston performed the radiosurgery (in February 2005), essentially burning the blood clot area through a beam of radiation that is supposed to eliminate the mass.

"The day after my surgery, Dr. Day told me it would take two years to recover," Price said. "He said 'I won't even look at it until after a year.' I had an angiogram in June and he said it looked great and said I'm at the same risk sitting on the couch as I am running up the court."

The same Columbia Web site said there is "no known activity that is known to protect or cause a bleed," so Price plays basketball as if he never had a form of brain surgery.

"It's hard to put into words how happy I am," Price said.

"The suspension happened, it happened and I can't get away from that," he added. "But because of my sickness, I wouldn't have been able to play last year anyway.

Price finally was cleared for full workouts this past June, having gained 16 extra pounds while he waited.

"I couldn't do anything for a long time, nothing until June -- no running, no shooting, just watching," Price said. "They didn't want me to do anything strenuous. I was almost 200 pounds."

Now, the 6-2 Price said he's back down to 188 pounds. He still doesn't have his conditioning completely back, but is in much better shape than he was during the Nike All-American Camp in Indianapolis in July, where skill-wise, he was one of the top collegiate point guards, but was struggling a bit with his wind.

"Every day I feel better and have more endurance," Price said. "The quickness and timing is all coming along. I'm just adjusting to playing in the games, the speed of the game and the more I play the more I feel it's coming back."

To understand how remarkable this is, you only have to listen to Price talk about other people he has met with the same condition he has.

"I've met people who have the same thing I suffer from, and they're not all there," Price said. "They're not. It's a blessing that I'm able to do the same thing. They're just slow, just not there. My brain is working perfectly. There are no side effects."

Price, who will turn 20 on Oct. 7, is in an odd situation. He is asked to be the leader of the Huskies, despite never having played in a college game.

"He has come a long way," said UConn sophomore forward Jeff Adrien, one of only five returning players in the program, including Price. The Huskies, one of the youngest teams in the country, have no seniors or juniors (athletically) on the roster. "A.J. is a leader. He's a leader in class, too. I'm taking a peer mentoring class with him and he's vocal in that, too."

The consensus among players and coaches is that Price is a better scorer than Marcus Williams, the Huskies' point guard last season who now is a rookie with the New Jersey Nets. Price has the high school stats to back that up (1,394 points in three seasons). On first glance, he clearly has a quicker release on his jump shot and can get open faster than Williams, but Williams has the edge in passing and a better understanding of the nuances of the position.

Regardless, Calhoun is locked into Price being UConn's starting point this season from day one.

"I've had no choice but to mature as a person through all my tribulations," Price said. "I'm so grateful to be here. A lot of players may take their first game for granted, but not me. I would never take anything for granted in basketball or in life again. It all almost got taken away from me."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com