CHARLESTON — Devantae' Price admits he wouldn't recognize himself from a few years ago.
After graduating from Egyptian Area High School, the Tamms native joined the Kankakee Community College men's basketball team. After two seasons at Kankakee, Price joined the EIU men's basketball team, but he wasn't an official member of the team during the 2015-16 season because he wasn't academically eligible.
It was a wakeup call to Price that he had to get his grades in check. During the last two seasons, Price has been eligible and played in seven games last season. He's taken on more of a role this season, especially in the second half of season, and has played in 18 games and made one start, which was in the regular season finale against SIU Edwardsville on Saturday.
Price doesn't mince words when he talks about his three seasons at EIU.
"It's been rough, I am not going to lie, but it's been fun," Price said. "I have great teammates and they help me keep my head in it all of the time. If it weren't for them, I don't know what I would be doing now to be honest."
The reason it was rough is because basketball was almost out of the picture after Kankakee. EIU was Price's only NCAA Division I offer after his sophomore season, but he still couldn't be on scholarship because of his grades.
Price took plenty of credits at Kankakee, it was just his work ethic at times that got him in a bit of trouble academically. He was basically forced to change his habits when he got to EIU.
"You go from playing about every minute in every game to not playing at all. It was very rough. I honestly didn't know what to do, I stressed out a lot," Price said. "I took a lot of credits and did good for the most part, but I had a lot of excuses for why I didn't do my work. I was just being lazy for the most part. When I got (to EIU), the coaching staff didn't allow me to do that. There were study hall hours and they made it mandatory, which helped me a lot with my work ethic.
Price, who is a Sports Management major and hopes to be an architect, treats his schoolwork differently now. Instead of having an excuse for not getting homework done, it's one of the first things he does so he doesn't have to worry about it at the last minute.
"I had to sit out a year and take care of my grades and I was blessed with a scholarship the year after that," Price said. "It was a journey. It showed who I am really."
EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said Price's work in practice helped him earn a scholarship, too.
"He proved himself as a guy you could rely on and that's how he earned a scholarship," Spoonhour said.
Even though Price was on scholarship during the 2016-17 season, he didn't see much playing time. He played in seven games, including four of the last five regular season games, and only had 25 minutes played total. He scored 11 points for the who season and finished with the same amount of rebounds (11) as points for the season.
Price wasn't used to that because he played in 62 games in his two seasons at Kankakee and was a Class 1A All-State second team selection as a senior at Egyptian Area.
It wasn't the playing time Price was hoping for, but it might have been the best thing for him. The time he spent on the bench helped him grow as a person.
"It was a very big adjustment. I had to become more of a team player, in a way," Price said. "I was a team player before, but finding other ways to help. Like coming to the gym and working out with guys or helping to get them right before games and talking to them when they were down. Stuff like that. Things I've never done before, try and help people more than I usually do."
Price's playing time didn't change much to start his senior season. In the first 15 games, Price was a DNP (did not played) in nine games and played a combined 26 minutes with 21 of those coming against Fontbonne and Saint Francis, two lower-level schools.
Then Price started to see more time. He played seven minutes in a loss to Tennessee State, 10 minutes against Belmont on Jan. 13 and five minutes against UT Martin on Jan. 18. Price had another DNP, but then played 16 minutes against Belmont on Jan. 25 and scored 12 points. He was 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
From there, Price started to see more playing time because he was sticking his role and not trying to do too much.
"I am not trying to make huge offensive plays, I get out there and play some defense and play my role, grab a few rebounds and things like that." Price said. "I won't go out there and try and shoot three's a lot. I won't go out there and try and make plays happen all of the time. I just try and let the game happen and try and help my teammates."
EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said Price has done a good job of being ready to play anytime he's called upon.
"It's really not easy to know if you are going to play or not and then go out and do well," Spoonhour said. "He has really produced in a couple of these games that we have won and that's a rare thing where you go from not playing at all to doing some things that help you win."
Price made a couple of big plays during a key game against UT Martin on Feb. 17. If EIU beat the Skyhawks, the Panthers clinched an OVC Tournament spot. With the clock winding down right before the end of the first half, Price drove in and made a reverse layup that gave the Panthers a 10-point lead going into the half. Price finished the game with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and he was 2-of-3 from the free throw line.
EIU, which is 11-18 overall and plays Tennessee State in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday, went on to win the game to clinch a tournament spot.
"He got a couple of lay-ins when we had trouble getting baskets," Spoonhour said. "Those are big plays. It's a nice thing. He's a good kid and he's done a good job and I'm glad he's helped us win a couple of these games because we've needed every win."
On Saturday against SIUE, Price got the start on Senior Day. He played a career-high 21 minutes and even though he only had one point, he finished with six rebounds, half of which came on the offensive end.
Being honored on Senior Day was a culmination of all of the hard work Price put in the classroom and on the court over his past three seasons.
"It feels really good to finish out playing," Price said. "I would've hated to sit all year again. I really work hard in practice. I try to at least and my teammates do a good job of pushing me all of the time."