Timberwolves brass has two choices when the final roster spots are filled before opening night, decisions that, barring a trade or free-agent signing, will force Flip Saunders and Rick Adelman to decide between veteran savvy and rookie potential.
If it is life experiences they want, fifth-year guard A.J. Price has them and maybe then some.
Price was invited to training camp partly because of his connection with new Wolves General Manager Milt Newton from the season they spent together in Washington a year ago, partly because of three seasons with the Pacers and one with the Wizards. And partly because of two transformational years in college when he went two seasons without basketball because of complicated brain surgery and his own decisions.
At age 27, he is trying to stay in the NBA with an opportunity he admits was the only real one that didn’t involve playing overseas. He is competing with fellow veteran Othyus Jeffers and rookies Lorenzo Brown and Robbie Hummel for the team’s final two jobs because of what Adelman calls his professionalism and Price himself attributes to life’s lessons learned.
Price missed two collegiate seasons after his freshman year at Connecticut when he was diagnosed with a condition that entangles brain arteries and veins and required that surgery he credits with saving his life after his brain hemorrhaged. While he recovered, Price and a teammate were suspended by the school for a season for their involvement in trying to sell stolen laptop computers.
He attributes both experiences nearly a decade ago to changing his life, each for the better for a former nationally recruited prep star who won New York state high school championships.
“Each of them, they humbled me like I can’t even express, more than anyone can imagine,” said Price, who is named Anthony Jordan after his father, who briefly played in the NBA, and another NBA player named Michael. “I almost lost my life, changed my life, made me into the person I am today.”
Looking back, he attributes working harder physically than he ever had in his life during his freshman year at UConn to triggering a condition called arteriovenous malformation — an abnormality he says he was born with — that can cause brain arteries and veins to burst.
One night, he played video games, went to bed in his dorm room and didn’t get up until the school sent a trainer over five days later. He spent those five days in a state he compares to “blackout drunkenness.” He said his friends and dorm mates just thought he was ill with the flu.
“I still don’t remember two weeks of my life,” he said. “Friends came to my room and I didn’t recognize them. This is what people told me afterward. I don’t remember any of it.”
He was taken to UConn’s infirmary, then helicoptered to one hospital and transported to another in Hartford, where a CAT scan of his brain finally revealed the condition. Four months later, he underwent surgery at a Boston hospital.
Through it all, he lost 30 pounds and couldn’t return to a court for another 15 months after surgery.
“I didn’t play basketball for two years,” he said. “I couldn’t work out. I couldn’t lift a weight. It was extremely difficult because basketball, that was all I knew. I’m grateful. I got through it. God is great and I’m still here. I’m able to play the game I love.”
Six months into his recovery, he was arrested for his involvement with the stolen laptops.
“I was 18, it was a stupid, boneheaded mistake,” Price said. “Even though as stupid and embarrassing as it was to me and my family, it’s something I wouldn’t take back because it definitely prepared me for life after that. It helped me see the bigger picture, definitely humbled me. I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened to me.
“If that hadn’t happened to me at 17 or 18, who’s to say something wouldn’t have happened at 25 or 26 that would have been much more destructive to my career. It happened at a young age. I got through it. I got over it. I got better from it.”
His brain surgery gives him some common ground with Wolves teammate Ronny Turiaf, who underwent a six-hour open-heart surgery when he was 22.
“That’s what life is all about,” Turiaf said. “Each and every one of us here had to overcome adversity in his life. That’s what’s so difficult and so special about getting to the NBA. His adversity and mine just happen to be a medical one.
‘‘I’ve been a big fan of his for a while, without knowing about his past, just because he carries himself like a true professional and a true point guard with the essence of making his teammates better.
“I just see us as guys, regular dudes who happened to have gone through some stuff. “
The two discussed their lives one night over dinner during training camp in Mankato.
“We kind of came to the conclusion that’s what makes us who we are,” Price said. “Just to battle through what we have — and bounce back from it —pretty much makes us appreciate everything more to this day.”
Starting shooting guard Kevin Martin came through his third consecutive practice feeling confident in that sore Achilles that caused him to miss essentially three preseason games last week, he said.
“Very good actually, much better,” he said. “I feel great. I feel the best I’ve been since I started practicing here. I’m good to go.”