Preparing for NCAA tournament is something new for some Belmont coaches

Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 11:51pm

Kallie Price already understands the importance of March Madness — and she is barely a day old.

Kara Price was due to go into labor last weekend, but she wasn’t induced until Thursday, when she gave birth to Kallie.

The timing was important because last week was the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and in less than seven days the NCAA Tournament kicks off. Thus, her father, Mark Price, an assistant coach at Belmont, didn’t miss any of the Bruins’ three games en route to their conference tournament championship. Nor will he miss any of his first NCAA Tournament experience.

“It was perfect from a basketball standpoint,” Price said. “My wife swears I was praying for her to come late but I really wasn’t. It just worked out.”
 Head coach Rick Byrd has Belmont (27-7) in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven years. Only associate head coach Brian Ayers has been by his side all five times. In fact, Ayers, a former Lipscomb standout, will be making his seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was an assistant at Austin Peay and Vanderbilt in 1996 and 1997, respectively.

During the Bruins’ first four trips, though, the staff was the same with Byrd, Ayers, Casey Alexander and Roger Idstrom. But Alexander and Idstrom headed to Stetson last spring after Alexander was accepted the head coaching job.

So that means two new faces are making their first trips to the NCAA Tournament with Belmont — Price and assistant coach James Strong.

“The first time you get to go trumps all the rest,” Byrd said.

Strong has gone dancing before — at Vanderbilt. As a freshman guard, he played on the 1997 NCAA Tournament team. Strong was on the floor for three minutes in the Commodores’ opening loss to Xavier.

“It was definitely surreal,” he said. “It was something I strived to get back to throughout my career. ... It is an experience these guys will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Seven years later he was the director of basketball operations on coach Kevin Stallings’ 2004 team that reached the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champ Connecticut.

But this upcoming trip means more to Strong.

“It is definitely a little bit more gratifying,” he said. “It has been so long since I’ve been there. To actually be a full-time assistant coach is a little bit more gratifying. To be here at Belmont and go with Coach Byrd that has also been a blessing.”

Price spent the last two years as the head coach of Division II Ouachita Baptist (Ark.) and has been part of postseason teams but never at the Division I level. He served as an assistant at Alabama-Huntsville, which made the Division II tournament in 2003 and 2006, and at Faulkner (Ala.) when the Eagles the 2001 NAIA national championship.

He served as an assistant for three years (2006-09) at Furman — where Strong was also on the staff — but the Paladins failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.  His best chance came years earlier while a student assistant at Samford. After he graduated in 1998, the Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament the next two years.

“I could see that on the horizon,” Price said. “It had the makings. They had young players who were really talented. You could feel it coming. ... What is pretty impressive about what Coach Byrd has been able to do is the sustinance of the success. At times that part of it is even more challenging than getting the program to the point where you make the tournament. What is probably the most significant about what Coach Byrd has been able to do with the Belmont program is five out of seven years in the tournament, that is unbelievable.”

And thanks to his second daughter’s early — or late — arrival, Price gets to be a part of one of Belmont’s “unbelievable” trips.

“It would have been hard to have to go to Albuquerque or Portland and come back,” he said. “Both of which I certainly would have done. But it would have created a little bit of an inconvenient situation. So we’re really happy.”

1 Comment on this post:

By: bruingeek on 3/9/12 at 6:58

There can be little doubt that Coach Strong and Coach Price compliment the experience of Coach Byrd and Coach Ayers. Watching how players respond positively to them at court-side during games speaks volumes.

Coach Byrd has been a cheerleader for building a Bruin fan base...and it looks like Coach Price has proof that he did something about that! Congratulations to Mark and Kara for bringing a new Bruin into the world!!