Ivy 60 for 60: Tony Price

Tony Price celebrates Penn’s Final Four berth after the Quakers defeated St. John’s, 64-62, in the East Region final in Greensboro, N.C. (University of Pennsylvania)

Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, we cover one of the greatest players in Penn basketball history:

It is impossible for me to think of the ’79 Final Four Team and not think of Tony Price first. If a team could have a soul, a heartbeat or a center of gravity, it was Mr. Price. I don’t mean to disparage any of the other amazing players from that most magical of Quaker squads, but Tony Price was perhaps the most clutch player I think I have ever seen. When the game was on the line, he just refused to lose.

A high-school All-American from Taft High School in the South Bronx, Tony Price was no stranger to hitting the game-winning shot. In the 12th grade, down one point with three seconds left, Tony hit the winning jumper to give Taft its second New York City Championship. In the 1970s, New York basketball was everything, and Tony was named the Best Schoolboy Player in Gotham.

At Penn, he never stopped winning. In his first varsity season, there were some flashes of what was to come, such as 27 points against Furman and 23 rebounds against Cornell. During Tony’s junior year, I vividly recall him hitting two last-second free throws to beat Princeton. Afterward the cheerleaders carried him around the Palestra on their shoulders while those of us in the crowd chanted his name. The next year, he hit a running jumper with six seconds left to defeat La Salle in the Big 5. There probably were many other moments like these that I’m forgetting, but Tony Price made last-second heroics routine. Of course, he saved his best work for Penn’s historic trip through the NCAA Tournament in 1979.

It began with 27 points and 12 rebounds against Jim Valvano’s Iona Gaels. Then, despite sitting out six minutes of the first stanza in foul trouble against No. 1 seed North Carolina, Price put the Quakers on his back and notched 25 points and nine rebounds. He had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Penn’s triumph over Syracuse before finally leading the memorable comeback (21 points and 6-for-6 from the field in the second half) that would eventually beat St. John’s and send Penn off to Salt Lake City and Final Four history.  For these feats, he was named the Regional Tournament MVP.

Of course, these are just statistics. On a personal level, if I had to pick a focal point for my interest in Penn basketball, it is without question Tony Price. Numbers cannot possible convey what it was like to be in his presence and to watch him play. He embodied the swagger, the talent and the greatness of Penn basketball at its absolute apex. Throw in a packed Palestra, a rowdy and vulgar (oh, so vulgar) Quaker crowd and a brilliant rainbow of Red and Blue streamers flying toward the court, and you have memories to last a lifetime.  Still, as exciting, tense and nerve-racking as many of those games were, you always had the feeling that as long as Mr. Price had the ball in his hands in that last possession, Penn would win. To my recollection, we always did.

Stay Red & Blue my Friends,

The AQ

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