The Price is right

By all accounts, A.J. Price shouldn't be where he is today. He should be sitting on the sidelines with a giant brace on his left knee, or locked up in a prison cell, or lying in a hospital bed somewhere.

The Connecticut senior should be anywhere but starting at point guard for the No.1 team in the country. But that's exactly where Price is these days — a fact that surprises everyone but him.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Price said in an interview with Sports Illustrated last year.

The "everything" Price was talking about was a three-year nightmare that kept him from reaching his potential on the basketball court. Three years, three disasters.

In his freshman season the New York native and highly-touted recruit was supposed to shake up the Big East and deliver conference rivals with brutal losses. Instead, Price's doctor delivered him a lifetime supply of bad news. After being in critical condition for 10 days with a brain hemorrhage caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) – a birth defect that results in enlarged blood vessels in the brain – Price was told by his doctor to walk away from basketball.

The guard said he was "just happy to be alive." His friends and family knew better. They knew that although AVM didn't kill him, abandoning the game he loved surely would. So Price ignored the doctors and vowed to come back. His triumphant return would have to be put on hold.

The next year, Price was arrested and charged with three counts of larceny for trying to sell stolen laptops. The shame and embarrassment that came from his mistake haunted Price as he watched his team from the stands for the second-straight season. He was troubled, yes, but also humbled and hungry.

"I was so happy coming off AVM, then I got in trouble," Price told Sports Illustrated. "It really brought me back down to earth."

The following year Price returned, this time with a whirlwind of media attention and speculation. He would be called upon to lead a team composed of mostly untested freshman. Price struggled in his first year of eligibility, averaging only 9.4 points per game. But in his junior year, his talent on the court became evident for the first time since high school. Averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game, it seemed Price has finally outrun the demons of his past. Then lightning struck again.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, just weeks after Price had been named a second team All-American, he suffered a season ending ACL tear. Now on top of the burden placed on him by his previous medical and legal issues, Price would have to overcome six months of strenuous rehab to be ready for the next season.

"The doctors and coaches told me I'd torn my ACL and it would be the hardest thing I'd ever go through." Price told Sports Illustrated. "But I've been through AVM, and those are three scarier letters."

Driven by a new work ethic and unbridled sense of hope, Price has come back stronger than ever. Playing without fear or inhibitions, he has averaged 12.4 ppg and 4.8 apg while leading Connecticut to a 24-2 record. The point guard for the No. 1 team in the country has certainly paid the price for the success he now reaps.

"It has made it more gratifying knowing everything I've been through, knowing how many times I could have quit, how many times I could have been kicked to the curb or left aside," Price told Sports Illustrated. "That hasn't happened. It has been constant work and pushing. And I'm still here."

Player of the Week

DeJuan Blair made his case for being the best post player in the Big East during Monday's victory over Connecticut. Actually, he gave 45 reasons. That's how many combined points and rebounds Pittsburgh's bruiser had against the Huskies. Blair bullied highly-touted Hasheem Thabeet the entire game and left the Connecticut big man in foul trouble for most of the game.

Blair finished with 22 points and 23 rebounds to Thabeet's meager five points and four rebounds. If the stat line differential wasn't humiliating enough, Blair topped off the beating with a potentially game saving blocked shot on Thabeet.

Game of the Week

Louisville at Cincinnati

Feb. 21, 1 p.m.

After a blistering hot streak that carried the team through much of the winter, Louisville is finally cooling off. The Cardinals got pounded by Connecticut a couple weeks ago and then took a 33-point drumming at the hands of Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has been one of the more consistent teams in the Big East. Except for a loss to Pittsburgh, the Bearcats have played extremely well and are starting to garner NCAA Tournament talk. This game might prove to be a changing of the guard with a formerly elite team dropping and another team charging up the rankings.