Ebony and Ivory/Live together in perfect harmony.
—PAUL MCCARTNEY & STEVIE WONDER
They are the best college backcourt in America—perhaps the best to come along in more than a decade—which means, of course, that like other great guard tandems before them, Mark Price and Bruce Dalrymple of Georgia Tech share the unspoken awareness of each other's every thought that often exists in twins. "How he wants to lead his life is none of my business," says Price, a senior, of Dalrymple. "I don't know everything Bruce does, and I wouldn't want to know." O.K., maybe not identical twins. But still, the kind of bond that you find between brothers. "We're about as different as any two people on this earth," says Dalrymple, a junior, of Price. "I don't even know why we play well together. We have absolutely nothing in common. Nothing." Side by side on my piano keyboard, Oh Lord, why don't we? Oh, shut up.
Though taken together Price and Dalrymple may be the best pair of guards in America, separately they represent two completely different Americas, each foreign—perhaps even unknown—to the other. Price, the sloe-eyed plainsman from Oklahoma, is the religious point guard who learned his outside game indoors, where the winds that came howling down from the panhandle and into the Dust Bowl couldn't move his jump shots around. "He's got more brass than a cannon," says Miami coach Bill Foster. "He just takes it right in your face and he shoots it deep. He's the most exciting player I know about." Price is white and sings a little bit like Paul McCartney.
Dalrymple is the free-spirited ghetto blaster who learned his ferocious inside game outside on the playgrounds of Harlem. "The wind blew all the time up there, too," Dalrymple says, "but we didn't have any indoor courts to play on, so we just took it to the hole." In the second of Georgia Tech's three victories over North Carolina last season, the Tar Heels placed 6'10" forward Joe Wolf on Dalrymple to try to keep him off the boards. He still ended up with eight rebounds, five steals and 15 points. Dalrymple is black and, from the outside, shoots a lot like Stevie Wonder.
November 20, 1985
Georgia Tech finished 27-8 last season, with Price and Dalrymple leading the way to the Yellow Jackets' first-ever ACC tournament championship. Price has been named to nearly every preseason All-America team, with the singular exception of Playboy's, for which he declined to pose. Tech also got its first NCAA bid in 25 years, and came within a game (a 60-54 loss to Georgetown) of making the Final Four. Had it not been for Price's uncharacteristic 3-for-16 shooting performance against the Hoyas—he was 9 for 12 two days earlier against Illinois—Tech might have sneaked off with the national championship.
Bobby Cremins, the gray-haired, 38-year-old Georgia Tech coach, believes that much of his team's success is a result of good chemistry, although he admits that at first he wasn't sure how well Price and Dalrymple were going to get along. "To tell you the truth, I thought there would be a problem with them," Cremins says. "Price will take care of his business. I don't have to worry about him. Mark's only problem is that every church in Atlanta wants him to come sing in its choir. The kid's a trip. The first time I saw him singing on TV, I flipped. But Dalrymple's another story, a challenge. I worry a lot about Bruce. He likes to party and he likes the women. You have to stay on top of him every minute."
"Bruce and I used all the publicity to our benefit," says center John Salley. Salley and Dalrymple roomed together for two years before Salley, who is Tech's 7-foot center, began to worry that he was dissipating himself so fast there might not be anything left by the time he was ready to peddle himself to the pros next year. Their exploits backfired when Salley and Dalrymple each invited three women to a single home game last season, then realized there might be a logistical problem when they found out all six women were waiting for them in the same place.
"This was my own negligence for listening to Bruce," says Salley. He and Dalrymple sent word to their retinue that Salley had been asked to make an appearance live on the 11 o'clock news; then they sneaked out the back way. "It was a good thing we got out of there, too," Salley says, "because those girls were about to square off. One of them would say, 'Bruce and John better get here soon because I'm getting hungry,' and then another one would say something about how she was tired of waiting for us, and all the time their voices were getting louder and louder."
The voices of the four earnest-looking men singing at the front of the room in the Emmanuel Baptist Church climbed like homesick angels, bound for glory and hoping to get there in the same key. They were headed toward the pearly musical gates near the top notes of the traditional gospel song Walk Dem Golden Stairs, much to the delight of about 350 mostly spellbound adolescents.
When the quartet had finished singing, Mark Price's younger brothers, Matt and Brent, and his father, Denny, left him alone on the stage to sing his solo and to talk. Most of the time Price looks as if he has just been awakened from a long nap, and he is the last person you might expect to get up in front of a roomful of restless teenagers to entertain. "Mark has always been a real quiet, serious-minded person," says his mother, Ann. "It's very hard for Mark to verbalize his feelings. He's so quiet you just never know what he's thinking." And yet he seems to light up when he sings. "He's like a different person when he's singing about the Lord," says his girlfriend, Laura Marbut. "I think he feels like everything else in his life disappears then, and he kind of glows."
Price says his soul was saved at a revival meeting in Enid four years ago. "All those years I thought I was fine because I was going to church," he says. "But just like being in a garage doesn't make you a car, being in church doesn't make you a Christian."
At one time or another Price has invited all of his teammates to join him in church, though few have gone. Cremins, whose mother made him recite the rosary every night before bed when he was growing up in the Bronx, has adjusted his practice schedule to allow Price to attend church on Sunday morning. He has also tried to adjust his language. "The only thing I've ever done is ask him not to take the Lord's name in vain," says Price. "That's something I can't tolerate. But I don't get in people's faces and tell them they're going to hell. I can't stop loving my teammates if they don't believe the same way I do."
And certainly no one could share fewer of Price's beliefs than Dalrymple. "Bruce and I don't have that much in common," Price says, "so we don't hang around much off the court. He does what he does, and I do what I do."
The only place where Price and Dalrymple are more unalike than off the court is on it. Dalrymple is a defensive demon who roams the court looking for loose balls the way a free safety does in football. His 6.4 career rebounding average at Tech is slightly better than the springy-legged Salley's, and Dalrymple, who's 6'4", has never exactly levitated over anybody while going to the boards. "We've got a second guard who can't shoot, a point guard who's a great shooter, and neither one of us is a high jumper," says Price. "We just play real well together, and we both know what our limitations are."
Price is the classic pure jump-shooting guard, and yet he must also direct Georgia Tech's offense. "He's not the average white point guard," says Salley. "He plays like he's six-five—a Larry Bird type. If coach was to let him go, he'd have 40 a night against anybody." Although Cremins's insistence that Price diversify his game has prevented him from getting his scoring average back up to the 20.3 mark with which he led the ACC as a freshman—the only time in conference history that has happened—he has become lethal at long range.
Price is listed at six feet, though Laura, who is 5'9", says she had to stop wearing heels when they started dating. But he has had little trouble getting his shot off against taller defenders and against the loaded defenses Tech's opponents have thrown at him, primarily because of his quick release. "Because of his size," says his father, "he knew he was going to have to get it off quick." Denny Price has spent a lifetime tinkering with his son's shot, and to this day he remains a kind of shooting guru. "He's the only one who can fix my shot," Mark says.
Price's height, or lack of it, has always been of great concern to him. "When he hit 16, he really began to worry because he could see he wasn't going to grow much more," says his mother. "I remember one night sitting on the edge of his bed, visiting about things, and he said to me, 'I just hope I get to be good enough that one school will want me. Just one school.' "
Price was born in Bartlesville, Okla., where his father was playing for Phillips 66, an AAU team. Denny later went into high school coaching, and Mark never lived in one place for longer than four years when he was growing up. When Denny became disenchanted with coaching in 1979, he got into the oil well-servicing business and settled in Enid. By his senior year Mark had become the star of Enid's high school team. His size scared off most of the big colleges outside Oklahoma, but not Georgia Tech, which was then in its first season under Cremins. The year before, 1980-81, Tech had gone through a 4-23 season and was winless in the ACC; its coach, Dwane Morrison, left and became a caddie on the pro golf tour.
"I had everybody telling me how bad Georgia Tech was and asking me why would I even consider going there," Price says. During the wooing process, Tech assistant coach George Felton went to Enid 17 times to see Price play, once showing up in the middle of a blizzard so bad that the game he had gone to see was canceled. But in the end it was Cremins who captivated Price. "He had never even seen me play when he came to visit," Price says. "He came in in a green suit with that gray hair of his and talked for two hours straight. I hadn't been around many New Yorkers, and my whole family was just fascinated with the way he talked. We didn't say a word for about an hour."
"I'm a person who could have become a hoodlum and didn't," says Dalrymple, gliding through the streets of Harlem. "And I'm talking about a serious hoodlum. I'm good friends with all the pushers from 159th Street on down, and the reason I don't use drugs is because of them. They'd kill me if I did that.
"Maybe I am a little bit of a hoodlum, too. I've got that attitude. I'm the youngest of eight children in my family, and all the rest were girls. Too many sisters. It was rough not having a brother. You can't follow behind a girl. I had to learn a lot from my sisters' boyfriends, and most of those guys were hoodlums. They still are hoodlums. If I didn't love them, I wouldn't ever go around them. In the position I'm in now, I look up to lawyers and businessmen, but I look up to these guys, too. They're not honest, but they approach their lives with a sincere desire to survive. And if I get into trouble, it's a lot more likely there'll be a pusher around than a cop. It's not necessarily what you want your kids to be, but somebody's got to do it. It seems like there wouldn't be a basic balance if there weren't hoodlums."
Dalrymple's car slowly rounds the corner at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 119th Street, then heads west through an ossuary of burned and crumbling buildings—the bleached bones where once stood a thriving neighborhood. There are a lot of men out in the street, rocking from side to side but going nowhere, staring numbly at the car as it slides by. Until his freshman year of high school, Dalrymple lived on this block, at 119th and Manhattan Avenue. The five-story building that was his home is an empty shell now, its windows boarded up so that it seems to stare into the street with dead eyes. "It burned down in the middle of the night," Dalrymple says as he drives by. "There were always a lot of fires there." The entire block is now overgrown with weeds.
"Most of the people I go to school with don't realize this is what New York is like," Dalrymple says. "But I like coming home to this. It makes me stronger. During the basketball season, when it's a do-or-die situation, I know I can do it, that nothing could be rougher than this. It helps me to have spent the summer around people who are just trying to survive every day. I know how to survive."
Dalrymple's family now lives in the Drew Hamilton Housing Project at 142nd Street and Eighth Avenue, one of the many drab project buildings that are the new neighborhoods of Harlem. Unlike Price, when Dalrymple goes home for the summer, he is not treated as a returning hero. "Nobody here knows who I am," he says. Dalrymple's mother, Thelma, is a supervisor at a garment factory in Brooklyn. His father was a foreman at a furniture factory in New Jersey, and the father and son were so close that when Bruce was growing up, he would often go to work with his dad. But the factory closed a month before Bruce graduated from high school, and Henry Dalrymple has been out of work ever since. "He looks, but there's not very much he can do," Bruce says.
Dalrymple had almost no interest in basketball until he was 11 years old, and he might not have started playing then if his family hadn't got tired of looking at him. "Before I started playing basketball, I didn't do anything," he says. "I'd go to school, come home, watch TV, eat candy. I slept during the day, didn't want to do anything." His father finally told him to go across the street to the playground at P.S. 79 and stay there all day. Every day. "My father wanted me out of the house," Dalrymple says.
By the time he was 13, Bruce had become good enough to play for the Riverside Church Hawks, a haven for many of New York's most promising playground talents. "He was a tough street kid who had too many distractions and too many opportunities to be misled," says Riverside coach Ernie Lorch, who started the Hawks 25 years ago. "There are some people who have tremendous athletic ability, and there are some who make it because they have that great intangible desire to succeed. Bruce wanted to succeed. He's always been a great player, but you could never really tell why when you looked at his physical abilities."
You couldn't tell by looking at his grades either, so when Lorch, who's also the president of an investment firm, arranged a scholarship for Dalrymple at St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont, his mother encouraged him to go. "I wanted to go," Dalrymple says. "I didn't know I was stepping into a time machine." When he got to St. Johnsbury, he found a town of 8,000 people and two movie theaters. The school had a dress code, tough academic standards, and for the first three months he was there he had to get up at 6 a.m. every day and wash dishes. His classmates also weren't exactly what he was accustomed to. "There were 10th-grade kids driving Porsches," he says. "I hated it at first."
Things began to improve when the basketball season started. Dalrymple was simply too overpowering physically for most of the teams St. Johnsbury played, and he was literally playing every position on the floor. "I would bring the ball up the floor, pass off to a forward, then run down the lane and post up," he says. His team won the state title twice. St. Johnsbury went 86-8 during Dalrymple's time there, and he became the state's alltime leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 28 points and 20 rebounds a game his senior year.
"The thing that impressed me most about Bruce was his unselfishness," says Cremins, who was by then recruiting him. "He's a great team player. Here was a black player in a predominantly white state who was worshiped. They loved him in Vermont. That intrigued me." Cremins, who is from the High-bridge section of the Bronx, near where Dalrymple grew up, says, "Bruce and I hit it off right away because of our similar backgrounds. He has a lot of the street in him, a lot of New York con, and so do I. Bruce could take you places where you definitely don't want to be. I hung out with guys like Bruce."
Cremins has never made any secret of the fact that he doesn't fully trust Dalrymple, which doesn't seem to bother Bruce. "He's like my big brother," Dalrymple says. "He doesn't trust me because he knows what I'm thinking, and he knows what I'm thinking because he was just like me. Now he comes at me with all this reverse psychology, but I know what he's thinking, too, and I just play with his poor ol' gray head."
Price and Dalrymple will probably play with a lot more coaches' poor ol' gray heads this year, gray being the color you get when you mix ebony and ivory.