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Layton's Van Price becomes second-winningest girls basketball coach thanks to caring about more than wins

LAYTON — Basketball is just something Corinne Case does to stay in shape for soccer and track.

But when the Layton senior contemplates the kind of coach she aspires to be, it’s her basketball coach she hopes to emulate.

“He is so caring,” Case said of Layton head coach Van Price. “He doesn’t just care about basketball. He wants to know how your personal life is going, are you doing good in school and at home; he makes sure that we know throughout the season, if we have a problem, we can talk to him. …Other coaches, they normally just care about the sport, they’re focused on winning and making sure we’re good at the sport. He cares about people's lives outside of sport.”

It isn’t that Price, who started coaching at Layton High in 1986, doesn’t care about winning. He recently earned his 467th win, making him No. 2 on the all-time win list for girls basketball coaches in Utah. The only man ahead of him is former Ogden coach Phil Russell, who has 500 victories in a career that spanned nearly four decades.

Price isn’t comfortable talking about himself especially when it comes to discussing accolades. His affable nature belies his competitive nature. He has a relentless work ethic, champions old-style, team-oriented basketball and is a tireless advocate for women’s athletics.

“He’s got humility,” said long-time friend and the man who now sits at No. 3 on that last with 465 wins, former Bingham head coach Rand Rasmussen. “Everybody can learn from that, I don’t care who you are. The guy has the world by the tail, his record shows that, but if you talk to him, you wouldn’t know that. He just goes about his business being a great role model to young women. You couldn’t be around a better guy.”

Earning 467 wins in anything is difficult. But to do it in high school where coaches have constantly changing variables and rosters, is a feat worth recognizing.

“It is not surprising,” Rasmussen said. “He does everything the right way. To win you have to have a lot of things go in your favor. You have to have a good team situation, player support, parent support…you have to know what you’re doing. You have to have a good summer program, a good fall program, and push the weights. He does all those things. …This is one of the true good guys of the world.” Price bristles at the idea of a story chronicling his accomplishments. But he is also very proud of the young women who’ve helped him earn each of those victories, and especially his two state championships.

“I wanted to coach boys,” Price said of the job that was offered to him after he graduated from BYU. “I’d coached girls at BYU in a church program, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ My first year, they hadn’t won a game the year before. I think we won seven games that first year, and the girls gave me a trophy. They thought it was fun.” His wife was his assistant, and his players often babysat his oldest daughter on the sideline. All of a sudden the job he saw as a consolation prize became something he treasured.

Price noticed inequities between the boys and girls programs right away. When he saw signs that welcomed each boys player, he asked the boys coach if he could have the other side of the gym to do the same for the girls.

“He said no,” Price said. “They had a prime-time practice slot right after school every day, so we’d go after them one day a week and the other days we’d come in early and share the gym with the cheerleaders. It was so wrong. It was a year later that he got fired and coach (Scott) Applegate took over and he really understood things. We made everything equal.”

There are a lot of reasons Price came to love coaching girls basketball, but chief among those reasons is the desire the players have to do what the coaches ask.

“Boys is spread out, read and react, one-on-one basketball, and I’m just an old-style coach,” said Price, who did leave the girls program for two years so he could be an assistant while his son played for Layton High. “I run a lot of plays. The girls try their hardest to run what you want them to run. With boys, there is so much freelance. …The thing I’ve loved about the girls is that they try their hardest to please you. They try to run what you give them to perfection. …And at the end of the season, the girls are so appreciative of what you’ve done.”

Years ago, one of his teams bought him dinner and fifth-row Jazz tickets, and then the players babysat the Price children in an effort to thank their coach and his family.

But it isn’t just Price's commitment to his program. Over the years at times, he's felt like girls teams needed someone to be a champion for them — and he’s been willing to take on that role.

“The girls have taken a back seat sometimes,” he said. “I’ve tried to be an advocate for them. They need somebody in their corner, and I’ve tried to be that person.”

When the Utah High School Activities Association chose to go to three officials for boys basketball, it became difficult to get the best referees at girls games. While many coaches complained about the problem privately, few were willing to do so publicly because they feared officials might take it out on their teams. Price was among those who didn’t hold back in saying he believed the UHSAA should require officials to work both girls and boys games. The next year, the association voted to use three officials at girls games, making them more attractive to officials and ensuring better referees.

He still wishes Davis County didn’t schedule the girls' games before the boys' games, especially because Layton’s facilities mean they never get to attend boys games and support their classmates.

“I wouldn’t mind us having our own night,” he said. “But that’s just the way it’s been done, and most of the coaches in our region just expect that. …There are pluses and minus to being a preview to the boys' games. But we have some longtime fans who come just to see the girls play. They love the purity of the girls game.”

Price said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to justify that massive time commitment, which he acknowledges he couldn’t have managed without the support of his family. Specialization has reduced the number of players willing to play multiple sports, and coaches with successful programs have thriving feeder programs.

“It all makes me have to work longer,” he said. “I don’t want to take fourth and fifth graders and work with them to try and build my own program. But those were some of my best teams when I did that. But I’ve got a family, and they’ve sacrificed a lot.”

Still, he said, seeing players come together for a singular purpose and learn about attributes they didn’t know they had is the reward that keeps him energized.

“I love this team,” he said of this year’s Lancers, who have just two players who specialize in basketball. “Every team is different, but this team is a defensive team, and that’s what we’ve always hung our hat on.”

Case said one of Price’s gifts is that he can teach basketball in terms anyone can understand.

“It’s been kind of hard for me because it’s not my first sport,” Case said. “Playing for Coach Price makes it a ton easier because if I don’t understand basketball terms, he says, ‘Well, maybe in soccer you call it this.’ He just makes sure everyone on the team understands what he’s talking about.”

One of the aspects of his teams Price is most proud is how committed they are to executing what the coaches ask.

In fact, Case said she is thrilled to be part of the team that helped him move up to No. 2 on the list.

“I would love to coach when I’m older, and when I do, I want to make sure I use the same mindset that Coach Price does,” she said. “Just caring about people’s lives outside of sports, just loving players no matter what. ...I feel special playing for him. I was on that state championship team (2016), and I saw him create that team and build them up. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve loved every second of it.”