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If he had his way, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep junior Montaque Gill-Caesar says he would “stay in the gym because that’s the only way you get better.”
No one can vouch for that better than Norrie (Clevenger) Price, a former Mercer Countian and part of the host family for Gill-Caesar in Huntington now.
“He came to Huntington Prep and began living with us last year. He’s a very mature, respectful young man. He works harder on his game than anyone else that has lived with us,” said Price. “He comes in from practices and games, eats and goes back to the gym. He’s very devoted to his family at home. He’s just really a great kid.”
The 6-6 Gill-Caesar is a top 20 recruit in the 2015 class who could reclassify to 2014. He’s on UK’s radar — Kentucky coach John Calipari went to watch him play earlier this month — but has been receiving attention also from Duke and numerous other top schools such as Michigan State, Kansas, Marquette and West Virginia.
Gill-Caesar, a Canadian, enjoys living with Price, her husband and children.
“They have been really, really good to me,” Gill-Caesar said at the Marshall County Hoop Fest earlier this month. “They give me my privacy and they are cool people. They make me feel welcome and treat me as one of their own. They are strict, which is a good thing. It helps when you are out here and they provide such a good environment for me.
“We talk basketball occasionally, but not all the time. She talks about Kentucky a lot because she likes them. Whenever there is a Kentucky game on, we will be watching it. I know her dad (Steve Clevenger) played there, but she doesn’t push that on me.”
Gill-Caesar says the Price’s house is often a “hang-out spot” for Huntington Prep players.
“They are cool people, so you get comfortable because they are welcoming … and she is really a good cook, too. It can be kind of stressful for her, but she enjoys it and keeps everyone busy and occupied when we are around,” Gill-Caesar said. “She is very big on homework and making sure we stay up with our grades. Our grades are our future if basketball does not work out and will give us something to fall back on.”
Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford says having parents like Price and her husband house players is what makes his program different from other prep schools.
“Our school is not for everyone, but the parents love it because we have families that are family away from family. It’s hard to put a price tag on it, but people like them are so valuable. It is a great situation and to have people like Norrie and Dane (Price) involved with our program is why it is successful,” Fulford said. “Norrie relates to the kids. She has a daughter who is their age, and she is cool. She is sports-minded. Obviously, her dad played at Kentucky. They are sports-minded people and I just think it is one of those scenarios with them where they are outgoing and easy to like,
“But you are not coming here just for basketball and the kids know that coming in here. People like Norrie and Dane literally take that serious. They don’t want me calling because if he doesn’t turn in homework assignments, I am going to call and ask them why he’s on this homework assignment list. Everybody works together to make this work.”
It’s working for Gill-Caesar, who had 56 points in a game earlier this year.
“Last year he was just a sophomore and the team had Xavier (Rathan-Mayes) and Andrew (Wiggins) and other seniors who were the recognized leaders,” Price said. “This year he is the only returning player from last year’s team and he is the recognized leader on the court and off. He’s grown into that and he’s handling it well. It’s a role that fits him.”
Going against Wiggins, who now plays at Kansas, daily in practice last year made Gill-Caesar improve.
“It helped me a lot, physically, defensively and having to adjust to react quicker,” Gill-Caesar, who went to the same elementary school in Toronto as Wiggins, said. “He is a quick player on the offensive end, so I had to work to score on him because he is also a lockdown defender. I had to find other ways to score. I think I am more assertive this year. Last year I was more of a shooter. This year I have more freedom to post up, shoot pull ups, get to the foul line and score.
“Andrew made me learn to push hard because he has such high expectations for our team and made you have to play at a high level every day. He was just special. He had so much athleticism. I have never seen that before. He is probably the most humble guy. He doesn’t get cocky. He plays to the crowd, but he always played hard and it benefitted the team. He was the No. 1 player in the country and he showed us all how to deal with it. I think if you model yourself after a guy like that, you will be fine. Everybody also got the opportunity to be seen because of him.
Gill-Caesar says coaches like his “body size and how physical and aggressive I am” when they talk to him.
“I know I am getting better because that’s what happens you work hard on something every day,” Gill-Caesar said. “That’s something Andrew also showed me was that I had to get quicker and stronger.”
Norrie Price says he prefers working on his game to anything else he does.
“He really works hard at his game all of the time. He’s wonderful about taking my son with him to the gym. He likes to hang out with his friends and teammates. He enjoys listening to music … loudly,” Price said. “He’s a solid kid on and off the court. He shoots the ball really well but he also surprises people with his ability to drive and get to the rim. He had 56 points in a game and I could not have been happier for him. His Mom and little brother were here visiting, so it was special.”
She doesn’t know if he will reclassify to the 2014 class, but if he does, she will miss having him around.
“He’s a part of the family, so it will be just like one of my own kids going to college. Hopefully he will end up some place where we can still visit,” Price said. “We had two former players with us for Thanksgiving, so hope to remain close to Teki as well.”
And when will he decide about reclassifying?
“It will just be a spontaneous thing. There’s no set time at all. It will just be a feeling,” Gill-Caesar said. “I’ve got everything I need to graduate.’
He says Kentucky would like him to reclassify and that he feels UK’s 2014 recruiting class of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl Towns “is really talented and will make noise” with their play.