The plan was for Michelle Price to always be linked with Jessica Diamond, Chynna Turner, and Jazimen Gordon, each hand selected by coach Jody Adams to be the foundation of the turnaround at Wichita State.
But a knee injury that robbed Price of her junior year, forcing her to redshirt, also robbed her of that bond with her classmates.
It was tough to sit out a season, but even tougher last March when Price watched Diamond, Turner, and Gordon walk away from the program after fulfilling their destiny of winning the program’s first Missouri Valley Conference championship and playing in its first NCAA Tournament.
No longer is Price tasked with taking WSU to the top. Now she has to keep it there.
“It’s her team,” Adams said of this year’s team. “Chynna had her chance and she stepped up and led. Jessy had her chance and she stepped up and led. Jaz had her turn. Now it’s time for Michelle to do that.”
Wichita State, with five freshmen and two junior-college transfers, is desperate for a leader to emerge.
Price has always been one of WSU’s more vocal players, but she also always had Diamond, Turner, and Gordon to supplement her in the leadership position. Now only she remains.
“It’s definitely different,” Price said. “It’s harder than I thought it would be. I don’t have my other people there with me.”
Leadership isn’t the only responsibility of Price that is being increased. Not only does WSU lack another senior, but Price is the only player on the roster that has the strength, experience, and height to effectively defend low-post threats.
In years past, Price has excelled as a role player. Her worth was never tied to statistical categories, as she has career averages of 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds, rather to the spark that accompanies her on the court with her energy.
Price was never the most gifted out of that initial recruiting class, but she proved she belonged by using brute force in her 6-foot-1 frame and an undeniable will to chase down loose balls that has endeared her to Adams.
“We don’t have the coattails of those guys to ride,” Adams said. “It’s now (Price’s) turn to step up and lead and get the rest to follow.”
Following Price won’t be difficult with her credentials. She is the last vestige to when the Shockers were more concerned about just finishing with a winning season, not with a championship.
Having a player who was part of the process to establish the Shockers to the winning program they currently boast has been invaluable.
“Michelle has a lot of wisdom to spread,” said Gordon, now a graduate assistant at WSU. “She’s the only one who’s been here since Jody first got here. She’s seen this program progress and get better and better. There’s not a better person to lead than Michelle.”
It’s a challenge Price has taken seriously, as she has researched different types of leadership styles. She has a memory from the last four seasons, recalling what leaders from those teams did that did and did not work.
Then again, none of them had seven first-year teammates to lead.
“It’s a feeling-out process,” Price said. “Some of them can take the intensity of the yelling and some can’t. I’m just trying to find the best way for each person, because every person is different.”
In some regards, Price might be Wichita State’s most important player. On a team so malleable, she is the one that will be molding what is essentially the future of the program.
This wasn’t in the original plans, but it’s a revision Price has welcomed.
“Emotionally, yeah, it was tough (not graduating with Diamond, Turner, and Gordon),” Price said. “But at the end of the day, I was so proud of them because we went through so much together. I just knew for this season to remember what we were taught when we were freshmen and try to do the same for these freshmen.”