Nicole Price doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands these days.
When she’s not teaching English at IN-Tech Academy, she’s rushing to monitor study hall for the boys basketball team. Once study hall is completed, it’s off to the gym for the daily two-plus hours of practice.
Yes, Price is the head coach of the Panthers boys hoops team. A woman coaching boys? Rare, but not unheard of. What’s different about Price’s program, however, is that while her teams have been steadily stacking up wins the past three years, that’s not what drives her to put in those long hours every day.
Basketball is important, Price says, but not nearly as important as the life of her players after basketball.
“Actually I have very little of a basketball background,” Price said after the Panthers’ recent victory over Jane Addams. “I played basketball, but I was more into track. But what got me involved with the program was the academic part of it. Being in the high school as a teacher, I saw most of the players in school every day, and I wanted to make sure they understood the student part of being a student-athlete.”
So Monday through Friday, once the bell has sounded to end the school day, Price makes sure her players are ready for the second part of their day.
“We have study hall every day because our program makes sure that the kids understand that academics come first,” Price said. “So we run study hall every single day from 4 to 5:45 p.m., and then we come into the gym to practice from 5:45 to 8 o’clock. It does make for an extremely long day.”
Price is now in her fifth season at the Panthers’ helm and has enjoyed copious amounts of success on the court. She led IN-Tech to a 10-win season two years ago, and nine wins last year. Both seasons came with playoff appearances.
This year she has IN-Tech as proud owners of an 8-2 record in the Public School Athletic League’s Bronx B-1 Division, tied with Tuitt for first place.
Despite their recent success, Price says she finds it hard to concentrate on wins when there is still much to teach.
“It’s hard for me to keep track of our record because we’re always working on the things we need to do to get better,” Price said. “We do celebrate the wins, but not that much because we always see the things we need to work on.”
And not all of that work takes place in the gym, with some of it dating back to her pre-coaching days at IN-Tech.
“I was helping the kids with study hall because, to keep them all eligible, they need to understand that basketball is one thing,” Price said, “but this is about life. This is about academics. They have to think about life after basketball, so my thing was to make sure they all graduate.”
Price likes to foster a family-like atmosphere around her team. So in that respect, she becomes more than a coach to her players.
“I really enjoy being with them,” Price said. “I know they look at me as being their mom because they know I’m making sure that we’re a family. And that’s what we impart to the boys. They know we’ll be there for one another for everything, and we want to make sure that we all succeed. It’s not about one of us succeeding, it’s about all of us succeeding.”
The Panthers succeeded quite a bit on the court before the Christmas break with only losses to Tuitt and South Bronx Prep keeping them from an unbeaten first half of the season. But with five games remaining — beginning with a neighborhood battle againsts Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy on Jan. 10, and a return match with Tuitt at home Jan. 15 — might Price and her Panthers be looking at a special season?
Perhaps a division title and a long run in the PSAL postseason?
“I’d feel wonderful about that,” Price said. “If it happened, it would be awesome. Anything is possible with a lot of hard work.”
Which means those long days will continue for Price and her program. Not that she’s complaining.
“Every time the year is over, I miss it even though it’s really rigorous during the season,” Price said.
And when the season is over, what then? Maybe a February getaway to a tropical beach perhaps?
“No, I’m usually sleeping,” Price said, laughing. “I have to catch up on the sleep that I don’t get during the season.”