While Coach Hunsaker was at my house, I saw (a girl) in the media guide. She was a cheerleader, and I made a joke to my friend that she would be my girlfriend if I went to that school. – Ronnie Price
Utah Valley State College was a small and relatively unknown school in Orem, Utah.
But for one college kid from Friendswood, Texas, going to UVSC was the best decision he ever made.
At UVSC, now UVU, Ronnie Price had a fantastic basketball career, was named most valuable player his senior year, kick started his NBA career, met his wife and ultimately became a man. He says has no regrets as he looks back on his collegiate career.
Price enrolled at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., as a 5-foot-7 guard coming out of high school. He walked on the basketball team and had a good freshman season. Price had a late growth spurt in college and by the end of his freshman season, other schools had taken an interest in him. He decided to transfer to a junior college so he wouldn’t have to sit out a year.
One of the schools showed interest was UVSC and soon coach Dick Hunsaker came knocking on his door.
“I met with a few different head coaches,” Price said. “Coach Hunsaker was one of the coaches that came up to my house to talk to me and my family. I loved Coach Hunsaker and made my decision pretty much based off of that.”
A lot of things about UVSC resonated with Price. He knew the arena was big and that UVSC was in the process of becoming a university. He knew he would get a seen by scouts playing against good competition throughout the state.
He was also drawn to a picture he saw in the media guide.
“While Coach Hunsaker was at my house, I saw (a girl) in the media guide,” Price said. “She was a cheerleader, and I made a joke to my friend that she would be my girlfriend if I went to that school.”
Fast-forward to November 2002. Price had chosen to transfer to UVSC and the season was just getting kicked off. He and the basketball team were doing a series of promotional, school spirit events to get people excited about the season. That’s when he saw a familiar face.
“I said, ‘man that girl looks familiar,” Price said “'She looks like the girl I saw in the media guide.’ I asked one of the basketball players there if she was a cheerleader and they were like ‘yeah.’ I walked up to her and introduced myself and became really good friends and started dating the following year.”
Jenni Bybee was that cheerleader.
She got a scholarship and chose to go to UVSC to get out of Logan, Utah, her hometown. She knew that Price was on the basketball team when she met him, but he wasn’t yet a big deal.
“He found me in the hall and he asked one of the basketball players from the year before about me,” Jenni Price said. “We’ve just been good ever since."
Price eventually told where he had originally seen her. She didn’t believe him at first, but they had a friend confirm the story. She feels fortunate that she was included in that media guide.
“Yeah, I’m glad,” Jenni said. “I think we probably still would have crossed paths somehow. I think he would have been attracted to me if he hadn’t seen me before.”
Price went on to have a stellar sophomore year. He started nearly every game his first year as a transfer, and averaged over 15 points a game, including a 38-point outburst at the end of his season. He continued to progress and grow as his collegiate career went on.
“(He) probably had the most improvement of a player that I’ve ever experienced in my career (of) 37 years,” Hunsaker said. “He was always blessed with tremendous athleticism, and he had a late growth spurt. As he grew into that body, he made the necessary physical and mental adjustments that comes with that.”
Price is now known as the most famous basketball player to come out UVU/UVSC. He averaged more than 24 points per game his senior year, and by that time, Utah Valley was a university. They were not yet in a conference, and were independent. Price was named the Division I independent Player of the Year.
Price wasn’t drafted to the NBA that following year, but he was picked up by the Sacramento Kings. He has bounced around, but has lasted in the league for nine years. He was a member of the Utah Jazz for four years and currently plays for the Orlando Magic, averaging 2.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. With an recent injury to starting Magic guard Jameer Nelson, Price has had the opportunity to start for Orlando. Price put up a season-high eight points and five assists in a 101-89 loss to the Houston Rockets on March 5.
Ronnie and Jenni ended up getting married in the summer of 2008. They now have a little family and are changing cities whenever Price goes to a new team.
“I feel super blessed grateful for where we’re at,” Jenni Price said. “It has its things that are a little hard at times because you’re moving around, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Sometimes pinch myself, you know, I’m really married to my best friend.”
Hunsaker and Price have maintained a close relationship throughout Price’s career. Price referenced Hunsaker for having the biggest impact on his development as a basketball player and as a man.
“Ronnie is as respectful young man as you’ll ever meet,” Hunsaker said. “At this time in our lives it’s a father-son friendship, a relationship and this has been definitely gratifying and fun.”
As Price looks back at his career, he says he has been truly blessed and realizes that everything happens for a reason.
“I don’t regret anything that I ever did or any decision that I ever made because most of the decisions that I’ve made in my life have been based off of faith,” said Price, who was inducted into the UVU Hall of Fame in 2010.
“When I look back at it and I look at the real reason why I went to Utah Valley and all that came out of going to school there, it’s truly a blessing. I firmly believe that. Looking back on it and my experiences while I was there, I wouldn’t trade it for the world," he said.
Follow Trent on Twitter @TheRealTrento.