UPDATED: Jay Price lands STM job
CHAMPAIGN — It worked once.
St. Thomas More is returning to the pattern it followed the last time a girls’ basketball head coach was hired. The school selected someone with college experience.
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Price is scheduled to talk to Steve Kelly at 5:15 p.m. on WDWS 1400-AM. Listen here
Principal Ryan Bustle confirmed Wednesday afternoon that former UI men’s assistant Jay Price will be the Sabers’ next head coach. He inherits a team that has appeared in consecutive Class 2A state championship games, winning the title in March with three underclassmen starters.
Price spent 10 years as an assistant at Purdue, where he was the recruiting coordinator. He joined the Illini in 2004 and remained through 2012, when the UI parted ways with Bruce Weber and Price was also relieved of duties.
Tori McCoy’s father, Tim, responded to the hiring in an email.
“First thing first, we are not leaving The High School Saint Thomas More,” he wrote. “I do reiterate on some comments I have made in the past about being heartbroken to see coach Mennig leave the program. But we did not choose STM because of the coach, we chose STM before even knowing coach Mennig, and we chose STM because we felt the school would have better success at developing them for their college years and even further into the future.
“Coach Mennig has built a very successful program and established a positive connection with the program’s players and families; with the exception of a few parents who were always unhappy with anything Mennig did. But for the most part, the majority of families had no complaints about how the program was run. Also, Mennig did not build this program alone. We all have to be thankful of the support the girls’ basketball program received from the STM family including the administration and teaching staff. And I am sure that Chris is as equally as thankful.
“If the administration felt that it was in the best interest of the girls program and STM to relieve Chris of his position and have the torch passed, then we as a family stand behind their decisions; because it really is not about coach Mennig, it is more so all about The High School of Saint Thomas More in general. I understand that with the new coach Jay Price we are getting an experienced coach who is very knowledgeable about the game. I am sure that he will be exceptional in continuing the legacy that coach Mennig and the family of STM built.
"We will welcome him with open arms, and I am sure that the rapport established between Mennig and STM family can be established with Coach Price and all of us. I think that coach Price will come in with a great attitude and will be excited about where he believes he can take this program and also be excited about working within the STM family organization.”
Recent STM graduate Randa Harshbarger said this year's underclassmen are looking forward tocarrying on the established tradition.
"I know the girls are ready for the season and they're ready to show some more Saber basketball," Harshbarger said.
Price, an Oklahoma City native — who earned his bachelor’s degree from Kansas — had offers to continue coaching collegiately, but stayed in the community. He has been working for the UI as the associate Director of Development in the College of Business and also coached his daughter’s sixth-grade basketball team last winter at St. Matthew.
In an interview with The News-Gazette’s Marcus Jackson last summer, Price said, “We love it here; it’s a great community, and we’re happy to be a part of it. We chose not to leave. We had some other options and chose to stay.”
St. Thomas More, which will compete in the Class 3A division for girls’ basketball in the upcoming school year, returns its top three scorers, two of whom are All-Area first-team selections: rising junior Tori McCoy and rising senior Lexi Wallen.
Upcoming senior Liz Bristow was an All-Area second-teamer.
"Us girls are hungry and ready to build on the successes we have achieved in these past few years and I'm certain that under the guidance of Coach Price, we will be able to do so, Wallen said. "We are all looking forward to the upcoming season and the challenges it will bring."
McCoy averaged a team-high 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Wallen was the No. 2 scorer (15.4 average) and led in three-pointers with 29. Bristow averaged 11.7 points per game and led the team in getting to the free throw line (184 attempts).
On Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Tori McCoy wrote: "STM has a new girls basketball coach can't wait to see what he's all about.....next season should be interesting!!!
Price replaces Chris Mennig, who was relieved of duties on April 11 during an ongoing federal investigation that started in 2010 and involved his association with Blue Star Basketball, whom he works for as a national evaluator. Mennig, who had coached at the UI under former women’s coach Theresa Grentz, had reapplied for the position.
“Anyone that has ever stood on a sideline always hopes that the program is in better place from the start of their time to the conclusion,” Mennig said. “I am very proud of the success through the years that this program has accomplished and will always look back on it with great fondness.
“To the present players at STM, remember my words ‘these are your memories.’ You control your actions on the court, no one else. Continue to make the most of your memories and build on what you have already created for you and your families. To the parents and C-U community that supported me, I can’t thank you enough. For the first time in my career I was able to call a town ‘home’ and it was because of the embrace of the Saber Nation and the halls within St. Thomas More that I chose to make this my home.”
The former coach is appreciative of his time at the school and sad that his tenure has ended.
“I would like to personally acknowledge and thank former principal Tim Millage and athletic director Dan Hennessey for allowing me the opportunity nine years ago to embark on this journey at STM. I truly felt we had just gotten our ‘train to a full head of steam’ and now it will be going down a new set of tracks. Kevin Sullivan of my staff said it best, ‘this wasn’t your job. It was your hobby, your love.’
“Anyone that has a hobby they love taken away from them is going to be emotionally hurt, and that is where I stand at this present juncture.”
As for what’s in his future, Mennig said, “I have been on a sideline for 22 straight years, ever since I was a sophomore in college. We’ll see if my phone rings, but I feel this is God’s way of telling me to take a break and smell the roses a little bit. It was a good run that ended with greatness. I’m sure that I will find my way back on to a basketball court again someday, but until that time I think I’m going to spend my winter working on my ‘short game’ for the first time.”
As for his successor at STM, Mennig said, “I have no ill will towards Jay, but would prefer not to comment any further.”