Tom Price has no shortage of reminders of his glory days.
The former Brandon University Bobcat men’s basketball player hardly misses a game at home. He’s also missing almost all of the action as he’s been busy selling Booster Juice smoothies since buying the franchise on 18th Street in 2011.
But as he sits on his perch above the hard surface of the Healthy Living Center, he sees the string of Canadian Bobcats stars before him, including a handful he has played with and coached to national success in the 1980s. Although not the old gymnasium (now Henry Champ Gymnasium), memories come up frequently.
“I have such good memories because the crowd was there, especially when they put the bleachers behind the benches. I don’t know how many points it was an advantage for us. The place was crowded, noisy”, Price said. “But the HLC…what a fantastic setup. It’s modern, it’s in many ways long overdue, but it’s a great setup. When I’m sitting there selling stuff, it’s neat to watch there -down, to see the pictures of the guys, everything -Canadians who played for the Bobcats.”
Price never knew the displeasure of losing a Great Plains Athletic Conference title. His rookie year was Brandon’s first in 1979-80 and he won four straight, reaching the national podium three times.
The six-foot-five forward’s basketball journey began at Harrison School in 7th grade, under the guidance of BU Wall of Famer (2014) Larry Rodenbush. He made a smooth jump to Crocus Plains, cracking the varsity team in 10th grade. Trainers Jim Mackey and Dwight Kearns – soon to become Bobcat trainer Jerry Hemmings’ assistant – instilled the importance of a work ethic on the road to success.
He also learned a few lessons the hard way. Price’s Plainsmen team in 1979 was formidable, with future Bobcats Grant Coulter and Don Thomson guiding them to a semi-final provincial matchup with Fort Richmond.
The game took place on the wire. Down 58-57, Price – who finished with a game-high 21 points – hoisted the game winner at the buzzer and watched him roll around the rim and fall, the mesh intact. Season.
“It’s devastating in so many ways,” Price said softly. “What annoyed me was that I let the team down. Unfortunately, that happened and that’s something the guys laugh at me about. ‘You only had one job simple. All you had to do was do it.
“The guy guarding me… I had my way with him for most of the game… but it just didn’t work out.”
Luckily for the six-foot-five forward, it wasn’t his last shot. Price attracted interest from a few college programs, but his choice was simple: “The dream was to play for BU.”
The Bobcats were on the verge of major success. Future Canadian stars Keith Strieter and Jerry Abernathy arrived from the United States in 1978, leading Brandon to his first-ever winning season with an 11-5 record.
Fueled in the fall of 1979 by a first-round upset and the likes of New York native Fred Lee and UPEI transfer Jude Kelly, BU was poised to soar.
Price felt the intensity on his first day of training camp.
“Everything happens so much faster,” Price said, comparing the high school experience. “Bigger, stronger men. I was playing with teammates aged 24, 25, 27. There you are, skinny little kid… ‘bodybuilding, what the fuck?’ Until you realize you have to, because otherwise you can’t compete.”
If that wasn’t enough, a preseason tournament in South Dakota did the trick. Price faced a flying opponent in the lane and drew a charge. At that time, offensive fouls gave the defender free throws if the offender’s team had seven or more fouls. The Bobcat, lying on the ground, still paid the biggest price.
“I couldn’t even catch my breath,” Price said.
Price injured his left ankle during the warm-up for the McMaster University tournament final in November, landing on a fly ball after a lay-up.
He made his debut the following month, however, and helped the Bobcats win their first GPAC crown.
“We knew we were probably going to get a wildcard if we didn’t win the GPAC. That being said, there was no way that Fred, Keith, Jerry Abernathy, Don Jackson…Jude…not winning the GPAC wasn’t not in the cards,” Price mentioned.
On their first trip to the nationals, the Bobcats edged the York Yeomen 81-80, then slipped past provincial rival Winnipeg Wesmen 85-81 to reach the final against Victoria.
Brandon ultimately fell 73-65 in the Vikings’ first of seven straight gold medal wins.
Price was named BU’s Male Rookie of the Year but never really got a chance to capitalize on this season. It turned out that the abnormal warm-up accident also cost him his left ACL. He said he probably partially tore it on play and completely broke it in a pickup play a few months later. Price missed the 1980-81 season and was never the same thereafter. He finished his four years playing in all four national championship tournaments, but admits the injury has resulted in a career “without distinction”.
“You’re not the fastest guy out there and you still lose a bit, it really puts you at a disadvantage, especially at that level,” Price said. “Jerry brought in some good, solid athletes. You’re competing against guys in training that you’re a small fish at the time.
“There are always lifelong friendships. You were competing, practices were in many ways a lot more competitive than most of the games we’ve played because we had pretty good depth.”
Price went to Boissevain School with his degree in education. He spent four years there before returning to Brandon to teach at Vincent Massey for another four years, then at King George for most of his career and at Meadows for the final years.
Price also returned to the Bobcat bench as an assistant coach for the 1987-88 season. Brandon finally won that elusive CIAU gold medal in March and expectations were sky high.
Brandon lost to Acadia in a tournament earlier this year, but had to face the Axemen again in the championship final in front of mostly a home crowd in Halifax.
Price already knew Hemmings was ready for games like this, but he gained a greater appreciation for the steps he took while sitting next to the bench boss during the title defense.
“I knew we were going to win. Acadia was a good team, a really good team,” Price said, adding the game plan was spot on. “Here’s all the cylinders we’re going to fire on, here’s what Acadia are going to do. He knew exactly what they were going to do on offense.
“(Hemmings) didn’t take anything for granted. I remember thinking, ‘Halifax is a beautiful city,’ they told me at the time. But we didn’t leave our rooms. We were watching the tape, every little thing you need to do to make sure you have the best chance of winning.”
Of course, BU won their second of three straight gold medals, 81-68 in a game that New Orleans native Whitney Dabney dominated in the first half.
Price began coaching during his Bobcat days, at Earl Oxford and with the Crocus Plains JV team. At Boissevain he coached “everything” and continued to play every team he could over the years.
“I look at what guys like Dwight did, Bob Hamilton for us in high school volleyball, Larry Rodenbush in college, Larry Pilling in college as well and all the time they put in,” Price said. “If they hadn’t dedicated that time, we wouldn’t have had anything, so I thought, ‘Of course, you give back. “”
He retired from teaching in 2016, already well on his way to his next endeavor. Price bought the Booster Juice franchise in 2011, then added another real estate with The Chopped Leaf a few blocks from 18th Street in 2018. A friend and fellow Booster Juice franchisee in Regina also had a Chopped Leaf store, which offers healthy bowls, salads and wraps.
“It was just when the recreational marijuana licenses were being granted and I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t open a drug store,'” Price said with a laugh. “We checked and thought the food was fantastic, so we said, ‘Let’s go’.”
Price tackled a steep learning curve early on. Although franchises are bound by corporate policies that restrict but help the business run smoothly, much of the learning comes from experience. Unlike the basketball court, it’s not as simple as stealing the ball to offset a turnover.
“Every mistake costs you money,” Price said. “…It’s not a ‘my bad’, redo or ‘take next’, it’s gonna be expensive. but it’s been good.”
He’s grateful for the doors BU and the Bobcats have opened for him in his teaching career and hopes he’s paid it for the students he’s taught.
“I think the most important thing every teacher will say is knowing that the kids did well,” Price said. “I hope some of the life lessons you’re trying to impart… I need to work hard in life, I need to have good manners, I need to have a work ethic, I need to “I need to be punctual. For me, no matter what your brainpower is, there’s a job for everyone and it’s just about making students aware of that.”