Curtis Price, who led Charleston High to the 1968 state championship and later went on to become a three-year men’s basketball performer for the West Virginia Mountaineers from 1970-72, died Thursday in Charleston.
Price's WVU teammates praised him as a gentleman and a terrific leader.
“Curt was one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my life,” said All-American guard Wil Robinson, who played all four years with Price at West Virginia. “I was his roommate for a while and we were really close.”
“I can’t begin to explain what a great person Curt was,” added Levi Phillips, who grew up with Price in Charleston and later followed him to WVU. “He was the most selfless person that I ever encountered in my life.”
“I think the biggest thing Curt Price brought to the team was that he was a true gentleman,” said Mountaineer teammate Bob Hummell. “He was just a class act.”
Price was the key player on Lou Romano’s powerhouse Charleston High teams of the late 1960s that also featured Larry “Deacon” Harris and Phillips, all three of whom played together at West Virginia.
However, Price severely injured his knee during his senior season of high school and was never the same player again, according to Phillips.
“A few years ago everybody used to ask me, ‘Could you beat Huntington (High) when they had O.J. Mayo?’ I would say, ‘Nah, they could have beat us’ and it’s true because Curt got hurt the third or fourth game his senior year,” said Phillips. “He played all those years at WVU on one leg. Huntington may have beat us after Curt got hurt, but they wouldn’t have beat us before Curt got hurt because Curt wouldn’t let us lose.”
The 6-foot-1-inch guard also sometimes played forward at WVU because he was such an exceptional leaper. Price saw action in 73 career games and averaged 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, including averages of 10 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest during his senior season in 1972. He scored a career-high 18 points in West Virginia’s 1970 win over 14th-ranked Army, coached by Bobby Knight, and he also had an 18-point effort during WVU’s 88-73 victory over Bucknell in ‘72.
“Curt had a bad leg but he loved to compete and he really wanted to win,” said Hummell.
Sonny Moran, Price’s coach at West Virginia, was among his biggest fans.
“We played in the Sugar Bowl tournament (in 1970) and one of the big-name coaches down there came up to me after one of our games and said, ‘The best guy you’ve got is that Curt Price,’” said Moran in 2010. “He was a hard-nosed kid. He had great jumping ability and he provided all of the leadership that you could possibly want.”
Phillips recalled a game during Price’s junior year in 1971 when it was clear to everyone the type of leader he really was.
“We were playing up at St. John’s in New York and they had a guy named Mel Davis and we had Dave Werthman – a good player – who was guarding him,” said Phillips. “But Davis was having a really good game and during one timeout Curt said, ‘Deac (Larry Harris), I want you to guard him and Dave you switch over’ and Sonny didn’t say a thing. He just had so much respect for Curt and he just said, ‘OK, that’s the way we will go.’”
Robinson credits Price with helping him break Jerry West’s scoring record in 1972.
“My last game, against Pitt, Sonny was going to take me out and Curt said, ‘No, he’s staying in the game. He’s going to break Jerry West’s record!’ I had no idea, and everyone else had no idea, but Curt somehow knew,” said Robinson.
Price was also instrumental in helping recruit many of the outstanding black basketball players who came to WVU in the early-to-mid-1970s, including Phillips.
“When I came up there on a recruiting trip Curt and Wil (Robinson) took me out and I told them that I was really thinking about going to Purdue and the only reason was because Purdue lost the national championship game to UCLA,” Phillips recalled. “Well, we were in my hotel room and Curt handed me the phone and said, ‘Here, Fritz Williams wants to talk to you.’ I was 17 years old and I was amazed that this guy in the NBA wanted to talk to me, but he only did that because of the respect he had for Curt. Fritz Williams had no idea who I was.”
“You reflect back on things and I had the privilege to play with Fritz Williams and then Wil Robinson, and I think Curt Price may have understood the black-white situation as well as anyone,” said Hummell. “Fritz Williams didn’t see color – he had that special trait of being able to do that - and Curt Price had the same trait.”
In addition to being an exceptional athlete, Price was a gifted musician who first began playing the piano at age six. By the time Curt was in high school, Phillips said he was leading one of the hottest bands in Charleston.
“He started a band called ‘King Curtis and the Noble Knights’ and when we were in high school he got a letter from a guy named King Curtis who was a musician and he said he was going to sue him if he didn’t change the name of his band,” Phillips said. “He changed it and all throughout high school they were the leading band around here. They were the band everyone wanted to see play.”
Phillips said Price even wrote several songs, including one, “My Mind’s on You,” that was later recorded by a nationally known artist.
“I forget the name, but Curt got paid for it,” said Phillips.
Following graduation from WVU with a degree in education, Price coached basketball at West Virginia State before taking a job in Gov. Jay Rockefeller’s administration as director of affirmative action. In 1986, he assumed a position with the Job Corps, working in various locations throughout the country before returning to his native Charleston last year.
“Curt was such a genuine guy,” said Robinson. “I always had the utmost respect for him.”
“Everyone thinks he became King Curtis because of the band,” said Phillips. “He was King Curtis way before that band started. In our community, he was the king and everybody both young and old considered Curt the king.
“He cared way more about other people than he ever did about himself, and that was all the way through life,” Phillips continued. “I think that is the legacy that people need to remember about him.”
Price leaves behind his wife of 39 years, Judy, two daughters, and grandchildren. He was 63.