Hollis Price and Quannas White: Ninth Ward to Norman

NORMAN, Oklahoma – More than a city, New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods. Asked where y’at, a local could rattle off any of 73 neighborhoods or 17 wards and expect you to make sense of it. That ol’ boy is from Gentilly. This one’s from Tremé. Algiers. Gert Town. Fifth Ward. Freret. And while the boundaries tend to blur, folks usually stuck with their own.

On a brisk November night in 1994, there was an 8th-grade basketball game between Fannie C. Williams and Livingston. The schools are about three miles apart, almost a straight shot down Dwyer Road, which cuts through the Ninth Ward. Outsiders would say they’re from the same area, but these kids were worlds apart.

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Though the exact numbers have faded with memory, that game surprisingly lives on. Hollis Price scored nearly 40 for Livingston that night, but Fannie C. Williams had a better team and a pretty good point guard in Quannas White. After the game, friends introduced the two, and they realized they lived just a few blocks apart. A few blocks but different neighborhoods. Worlds apart.

“That was his claim to fame,” Hollis insists, a laugh breaking out. “When his team beat me.”

That night, almost 30 years ago, was the first hint of a friendship, but, mostly, it began a desire to compete against and beat the other.

Both boys applied to St. Augustine, a private all-boys Catholic high school in the Seventh Ward. Getting into St Aug was a privilege, and scholarships covered much of the cost, which was far more than most families could afford. The school promises to “open its doors to young men, especially the economically disadvantaged, who are willing to strive for excellence.” That sounded great, but for Hollis and Quannas, it was really about playing for St Aug’s Hall of Fame coach Bernie Griffith.

Despite meeting the previous fall, Price and White did not know the other had been accepted to the school. When they walked into the first day of freshman hoops, how could they know they’d spend the next 30 years on a parallel path?

Quannas shares a word with HP during the Wichita State game – March 2, 2023 // © 2023 by Mario Puente

While at St. Augustine, Hollis and Quannas’s best competition wasn’t in the Catholic school gyms. It wasn’t from rival Brother Martin. The best competition was on the playgrounds of New Orleans East. Older guys. Guys that have been around. Guys that get to the park at 4:30 and don’t leave til the last squint of light. Grown men. “They wouldn’t take it easy on us,” Hollis says with a grin. “They made us tougher.” City parks are where they honed their skills, and their competitiveness grew.

As sophomores, they played for a state title inside Tulane’s Fogelman Arena but lost to Forche. After the game, White and Price went into the locker room with their heads down and cried. A senior asked why they were crying; he said they still had two more chances to win a title.

“We want to win this year,” they said nearly in unison.

“The exact words that came out of our mouths were a little more vulgar,” Hollis recalls. “That moment is something that sticks to this day.” They use it as a teaching moment for current UH players.

“You need to do it now,” Quannas pipes up.

Quannas coaches up Jamal Shead // © 2023 by Mario Puente

As young players, Quannas and Hollis were different. Quannas was a scorer, Hollis a passer. Kelvin Sampson once said of Price that he’d pass first, pass second, and look to score third. Not with White: he was always looking to shoot. But Bernie Griffith made Quannas pass more, and Hollis shoot more. That was the system.

They grinded for two more years and, as seniors, won the state title. After the game, Coach Grif told them, “You did a good job.” It was the first time he’d ever complimented either. “It was all we needed,” Hollis said.

“He prepared us for the next level.”

Griffith was tight with a compliment but hellbent on preaching accountability and discipline. It’s how things were done at St Aug, where getting out of line meant facing the Board of Education. But the Board wasn’t an entity, you see. It was an oak paddle. Hollis said he was paddled in class, on the basketball court, and all over that school.

You have to appreciate that this was the golden age of Louisiana high school basketball. Bernard King played in Gibsland, just south of I-20, before starring at Texas A&M. Chris Duhon went to Salmen in Slidell before a career at Duke and winning national collegiate player of the year. Stromile Swift went to Fair Park in Shreveport before LSU and the first round of the NBA. In New Orleans, everyone was compared to Randy Livingston, the two-time national high school player of the year. Livingston dominated early 90s hoops while his Isidore Newman classmate, Peyton Manning, dominated the football field.

Hollis Price was a top 50 national player but did not live the blue-chip life. Chew gum in class? Forget his homework? Play undisciplined? Top-50 or not, he answered to the Board.

“Of all the kids I’ve recruited in my career, Hollis was the most mature,” Sampson said. “Hollis was a grown man from day one. He was never a freshman.”

Price had offers from Tom Penders at Texas, John Brady at LSU, Ernie Kent at Oregon, and Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma. At 6’ and 145 lbs, programs had to bet on Price’s growth. But not Kelvin Sampson.

“When I sat down and talked to him for the first time, he just stared bullets through my eyes,” Sampson said during OU’s Final Four run in 2002. “I said, ‘goodness, does this kid ever blink?’

“The more you got to know Hollis, the more you wanted him.”

After being shaped by four years with the Board of Education, Hollis would be the building block of Oklahoma’s future.

HP talking to Emanuel Sharp // © 2022 by Mario Puente

Quannas always had a different path than Hollis. They were both fiery competitors, but it oozed out of Hollis. Some thought Quannas wasn’t as serious. Everyone in the park held the younger guys accountable, but Quannas had to prove to those guys that he wouldn’t turn it over. That he wouldn’t get scored on. Hollis would get on the court early, while sometimes, Quannas had to wait til the sun was setting before he got to play.

While HP had his pick of schools, Quannas only had one offer coming out of St Aug: Nicholls State. Hollis played for a Nike team based out of Shreveport so he could get noticed on the national AAU circuit, but Quannas had to raise money constantly just for his team to travel in-state. He memorably stood outside the Superdome during the 1993 Final Four, shaking hands and asking for donations while his favorite team, Michigan’s Fab Five, warmed up inside. White ended up at Midland Junior College and says he would sit in his room watching Hollis play on ESPN’s Big Monday.

“I knew I wanted to play at that level,” Quannas said.

Just before his freshman year, Scott Raines left a job as director of operations at Oklahoma to work at Midland for head coach Junsie Cotten. Quannas credits Raines for helping him become a DI player (as head coach at Howard JC, Raines did the same thing for Rob Gray). During his second season, Quannas started to get recruited by other major programs but always had Oklahoma in the back of his mind.

A scholarship opened up after Sampson kicked a player off the Sooner team. Kelvin went to Hollis to ask him about Quannas. “It’s a no-brainer, coach,” Hollis said. “You gotta bring him. That’s the guy we need.”

In his first season at OU, Quannas helped Sampson and Price breakthrough: they reached the Final Four. After losing to Oklahoma State in mid-February, the Sooners went on a tear. Five-straight wins to finish the regular season, claiming second place in the Big 12. Then, they beat Kansas State, Texas, and #1 Kansas for the Big 12 Tournament title. Quannas was the last piece that Oklahoma needed.

Kelvin Sampson will lead the Cougars into Norman on Saturday // © 2024 by Mario Puente

This weekend, as these two former Sooner greats return to Norman, they join five other UH Basketball staffers in the homecoming: Kelvin Sampson coached there, Kellen Sampson was a walk-on, Bobby Champagne was an assistant coach, Bilal Batley was a student manager, and Lauren Sampson was a student. OU wasn’t the start of Quannas and Hollis, but perhaps it’s where they realized they’d be linked forever. Linked but not the same.

“He was a great player,” Hollis said as he struggled not to smile. “If you ask Quannas today, he still thinks he’s a helluva player.”


GoCoogs Interviews: Hollis Price and Quannas White

Ryan Monceaux
Ryan Monceauxhttps://gocoogs.com
Ryan is the guy from GoCoogs. He is also a real estate agent and entrepreneur.

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