Michelle Price could have given up when, in her first year away from home in Kingwood, Texas, she found out her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She could have given up when two years later a knee injury robbed her of an entire season, as well as preventing her from graduating with her teammates in the same recruiting class.
She could have given up at any point this season, as five years of sprains, separations, and bruises have worn down the body of a 22-year-old with a career possibly in teaching awaiting her.
Price won’t find her name atop any list in the record book, but her five-year career at Wichita State is a testament to perseverance, to sacrifice, and to the power of positivity.
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It’s made things like Sunday possible, as the Shockers will make their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed visiting third-seeded Penn State.
“She made it clear early on this season what she was going to be satisfied with and what she was not going to be satisfied with,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “She was the one that set the standards.”
Price is Wichita State’s only legitimate post player, and even then, her 6-foot-1 stature makes her undersized against most opponents. That means every game in the post is a wrestling match for Price. On top of that, she hits the floor close to 10 times – diving for loose balls or battling down low.
That grind, to go along with injuries to just about every part of each leg, has visibly worn Price down. The energy isn’t quite as boundless as it once was. The spring in her legs is gone and it’s becoming harder and harder to sprint up and down the court.
But what has never changed, regardless of injury or fatigue, has been Price’s effort.
“This is my last time playing,” Price said. “This is my last year and I have to fight for my team. I’m going to leave everything I have out there.”
Price has left the Shockers playing the finest basketball of her career, averaging 12.3 points on 56.9-percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.1 steals.
But that’s not what makes her parents, Ron and Vee, the most proud. It’s seeing Michelle blossom into a vocal leader. It’s seeing how animated she becomes after one of her plays gives WSU momentum. It’s seeing her become a leader, and not just on the court.
“To watch her grow as a young woman has been pretty amazing,” Ron Price said. “The whole metamorphosis from this raw, talented, young lady to where she is now, it’s amazing to watch unfold. We’re very proud of her.”
For Vee, it has been an emotional last few weeks. Watching Michelle win another Missouri Valley championship and earn another berth into the NCAA Tournament has brought back the memories of where the family was just five years ago.
Vee remembers when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and Michelle suffered a season-ending injury. Those were rough times. And now reasons to smile.
“To know all the things we’ve been through, to see her out there now is really incredible,” said Vee, who successfully won her fight against cancer. “Michelle was there to support me in her own special way. She made me smile and laugh, and she just has that spirit. It was so helpful to me. It’s just been a very special time for our family.”
Price said she hasn’t spent much time reflecting on the last five years. That time will come after WSU’s game.
But when she does, Price will have a career filled with meaning to look back on.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Price said. “I’m just excited to go play again. We want to win and that’s all we’re focused on right now. The emotions haven’t hit me yet. That’s going to come later.”