Largo’s Price Just Keeps on Winning on Trip to State Final 4
One by one, the Largo High School boys basketball players stood on a folding table as they cut down the net following their victory over Naples Palmetto Ridge in the region final.
They saved the final cord for coach Phil Price to clip.
“I’m too old to get on a table,” Price said. “I might break something.”
For Price, 59, this has been a season of milestones. He is in his 20th season with the program. He also surpassed 400 career wins at the school this year. Today’s state semifinal appearance will be Price’s second with the Packers (21-6), the first coming in 1998.
Yet none of those achievements were marked with much fanfare. That is due to Price, who deflects most praise.
“It’s really about the players, more so than me,” Price said. “I’ve had a lot of good ones.”
There were Erroyl Bing (East Carolina), Ben and Mike O’Donnell (University of Central Florida) and Donavan Hale (Indiana), who all played for major college programs in basketball or football.
They all have helped Price turn Largo into a model of consistency. In his tenure, the Packers have averaged 20 wins per season. He has had only one losing season.
Yet only one of his star players, Bing, played in the state semifinals in 1998.
“This state semifinal appearance is a lot different than the previous one,” Price said. “Back then, it happened early in my career, and I figured we would keep getting back. But it’s hard. It makes you appreciate getting there a lot more.
“It’s been quite a journey.”
Price, a Boca Ciega graduate, played basketball at Taylor University in Indiana from 1974 to 1978. After college, he played overseas and for a travel team in the United States.
“I played until the calls stopped coming in,” Price said. “Then I knew it was time to get a job.”
He worked as an assistant coach at Pinellas Park for two seasons before becoming head coach in 1993.
After that season, he took in one of his players, Brel Mackey, who had lost both of his parents. Mackey more or less became Price’s adopted son. He followed Price to two head coaching stops in Georgia before playing basketball at Carson Newman.
Mackey is married and now lives in Atlanta.
“It’s a success story,” Price said. “Brel has done very well for himself.”
In 1996, Price took over at Largo. Though his teams have had talent, Price also had to mold many athletes into basketball players, especially at a school where students play so many sports.
Price is as intense as any coach, but he gets his point across more with a pat on a back than a steely gaze.
“The thing that makes him such a great coach is the relationship he has with the players,” senior Brandon Drayton said. “He cares about us, so we play hard for him.”
Price’s toughest loss came off the court. In 2009, one of Price’s players, LeShawn Smith, was among four killed in a car crash in Seminole. Each season, Price plays in Seminole’s Keith MacCollom Shootout, named after another basketball player who died in the same accident, to honor those students.
“That was a terrible event that hit me hard,” Price said.
In the past two seasons, Price has guided the Packers to winning seasons while the school has undergone a major renovation. The campus and gymnasium were doomed to the wrecking ball, meaning the team has had to play and practice elsewhere.
That makes this state semifinal appearance all the more rewarding.
“Coach has helped us deal with so much adversity just by staying positive,” Drayton said. “He would tell us at almost every practice, even before we made it this far, that we could do something special. We all bought into it.”