The story behind how Caroline Price is creating her own coaching identity
Every NBA season before Caroline Price’s sixth birthday, she travelled with her father Mark Price across the country as he finished his honored basketball career. From Cleveland to Washington D.C. to San Francisco to Atlanta, basketball surrounded Caroline at a young age. She was in-and-out of NBA arenas and perhaps expected to follow in her father’s footsteps.
However, growing up in Atlanta, a tennis hot pocket, Caroline took a detour and diverted from her father’s game. She blazed her own trail and absorbed her mother’s sport, one played with a racquet and ball – tennis.
“We had neighborhood courts by our house that I grew up on and when my dad retired, my mom and him started playing mixed doubles on a team together,” Caroline said.
Her mother Laura Price played tennis in high school and Mark also loved playing socially. One of their first dates was to play tennis. Once the family settled down, Laura created a junior team for her oldest daughter, Brittany.
Mark recites the memories of Caroline’s first experience with tennis. She was eager, hungry and excited to involve herself in the game. Caroline begged to join her sister’s Atlanta Lawn and Tennis Association (ALTA) team, coached by her mother. She became the team’s honorary ball girl and chased the stray balls for the older girls, just to share the court with them.
When Caroline turned eight, she joined the team. Before too long, her expertise in the game grew fast and within a year she was better than everyone else on the 12 and under team, including her sister.
Caroline evidently possessed her father’s athletic genes and while she excelled at tennis, her genetics called for a basketball career. She was athletic and taller than teammates her age and even played under her father in the fifth and sixth grade.
“I was lucky enough that my dad got to coach my middle school basketball league,” Caroline laughed. “I think I had the best middle school coach ever.”
Caroline also excelled at volleyball. However, three sports along with her everyday responsibilities became too much. Her father knew the amount of commitment required to reach the highest level in any particular sport and offered his daughter a small piece of advice.
“I told her she needed to at least break it down to two [sports],” Mark smiled. “She chose volleyball and tennis and broke her dad’s heart.”
By eighth grade, Caroline decided to devote all of her attention to tennis. Since a young age, she strove to compete at the collegiate level playing tennis. Before her sophomore year in high school, she won the Easter Bowl, one of the most prestigious junior tournaments in the country. Soon after, Caroline captured the National Clay Court Championship in singles and doubles and qualified for the junior US Open.
In 2010, it came time for Caroline to enroll at a university to continue her tennis career. Recruiters from coast to coast yearned to sign the nationally ranked juniors player.
She possessed a handful of options including Georgia Tech, her parents’ alma mater.
All signs pointed to the Yellow Jackets. Ryan Shelton, a family friend, coached the team at the time and was someone Caroline knew for the majority of her life. The college recruiting process became long and tiresome and Mark thought for sure that Caroline would select Georgia Tech. However, one school, 379 miles from home continued to recruit her and Mark pushed his daughter to visit.
“North Carolina was last on my list,” Caroline said. “I fell in love with it and decided that was my school.”
Caroline shined as a Tar Heel and achieved nearly every possible feat in her four years. She claimed All-American status on numerous occasions and helped North Carolina lift two indoor national championships in a span of three years. Her team reached the Elite Eight in her sophomore season and the NCAA finals during her junior year, ultimately losing a heartbreaker to UCLA. Caroline competed in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championship and accumulated 128 singles victories, second-most in program history.
Additionally, she became the first women’s tennis player to win the Patterson Medal, the most prestigious athletic honor awarded at the University of North Carolina.
“It’s such an honor because I gave my heart to that school. It’s an honor and a privilege to wear North Carolina on my chest,” Caroline smiled. “I look at the list of names who received the medal and don’t think I belong. A lot of credit goes to my parents; they raised me and held me to high standards.”
The Patterson Medal recipients embody more than just a noteworthy athletic ability.
“I was very proud of her because the award not only encompasses your athletic accomplishments but also the kind of person you are, the way you represent your school,” Mark said. “That makes mom and dad proud, not just because she’s a good tennis player but because of the young lady she’s turned into.”
At the time, Caroline set her sights on the Pro Circuit, which she competed in and lifted a title in her first professional competition. However, she shifted away from that lifestyle and ventured into a role presently common in her family: coaching.
In spring 2015, Caroline’s father Mark accepted a head coaching job with the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball program, only for his daughter to follow a few months later as the volunteer assistant with the 49ers women’s tennis team.
At the time, Caroline didn’t know Michaela Gorman, Charlotte’s head women’s tennis coach, personally, but she fell in love with the university through her father. She aspired to help in any way she could and didn’t see any harm in asking.
“She came to me in January and said, ‘I’d like to help you,’” Gorman said. “Nobody’s ever said that to me, it was amazing.”
Needless to say, Gorman welcomed Caroline aboard.
“I love [coaching],” Caroline said.
Coaching poses different challenges for athletes. While Caroline is still on the tennis court daily, she’s no longer holding the racquet, directly affecting the outcome of a certain match. Instead, she’s on the sideline analyzing her players’ strengths and weaknesses and creating a game plan to help her team win.
But also, she’s relatively the same age as her players.
“It’s been quite a challenge especially since my age is close to the girls’,” Caroline said. “Being a volunteer, I think I have a special position in that I’m an authority to an extent but I can also relate to the girls more outside the tennis courts.”
Gorman admires Caroline’s approach and how she’s embraced the coaching role.
“I’ve told her before, she’s a very mature 23-year-old,” Gorman said. “She’s an adult and has taken this more as job than trying to be their friend. The team knows she cares about them.”
Caroline’s youth is beneficial. Gorman noted that Caroline’s eye for the game offers a perspective that combines well with her own coaching methods. She’s been through the fire, recently, and understands the players’ situations. She can relate to the team, which is an aspect Caroline appreciates.
Mark and Caroline’s mother, Laura, are happy for their daughter; however, there’s one surprise neither expected.
“We bought a house, thought we were downsizing a bit,” Mark said. “All of a sudden, Hudson (Caroline’s brother) transferred back [to Charlotte to play basketball] and Caroline graduated and moved to Charlotte. It’s nice having everyone close, it’s been fun for Laura and me.”
It’s the first time in years since the majority of the Price family lived under one roof. While Caroline’s sister is married and living in Asheville, Caroline and her two other siblings reside in Charlotte and have adopted the culture and lifestyle.
“I love it, I’m very close with my family,” Caroline said. “It’s a special time to all be together. It’s rare.”
Although Caroline is back home living with her family, close to the tennis courts, she no longer challenges the one person that helped build her into the player she is today. She’s grown and her tennis game has massively improved since she was in high school, enough that her father, the one with the self-proclaimed decent forehand and weak backhand shies away from one-on-one competition.
“I can’t beat her anymore, that’s why,” Mark said. “I think she was about 14 the last time I beat her.”