The end of an era: Price and Fant say goodbye

WKU’s senior guard T.J. Price (52) looks to pass to senior forward George Fant (44) in the final minutes of WKU’s 52-53 loss against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the second round of the Conference USA tournament Thursday, March 12, 2015, at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Price led C-USA in scoring during the regular season but was suffering from leg cramps during the game and scored 6 points. Mike Clark/HERALD

Billy Rutledge

Thursday night marked the end of an era for the WKU basketball program. A 53-52 loss to UAB was the last game that seniors T.J. Price, George Fant and Trency Jackson will play as Hilltoppers. 

With every season, teams lose players due to graduation or other factors, but WKU will be losing two historic stars that have started since their freshman years. Price and Fant have been the faces of Hilltopper basketball over the past four years and their departure is a loss that the team and the Bowling Green community will feel greatly.

“I told them in the locker room, they have meant a lot to this program. They have meant a lot to me,” Head Coach Ray Harper said of the senior trio. “They are going to be great. I know when they leave the university they are all going to have a diploma in their hands in May. People who have had the opportunity to watch them, I know about their character, they are tough kids. It’s always sad when you walk into that locker room that last day. It’s the last game for your seniors, but at the same time these guys left it all out there tonight, which I knew they would. Proud of what they have meant to WKU basketball.”

Fant ends his career near the top of two coveted leaderboards. He finishes his WKU career with 1,621 points, good for 13th on WKU’s all-time career scoring list and 894 rebounds which ranks eighth on WKU all-time career rebounds list. Fant neared the top of another WKU greats list, as he is placed fourth on the career games started at WKU with 122 starts.

The Warren Central high school grad started all four years before choosing to stay in his hometown of Bowling Green as a three-star prospect. Fant quickly made an impact for WKU, starting 24 games and was second on the team in points (10.4), rebounds (6.1) and steals (29).

Fant’s stats climbed every year that he has been at WKU increasing his points per game from 12.8 PPG in his sophomore campaign, 13.3 PPG in his junior year and 13.8 PPG in his final season, his first in C-USA.

Fant has embodied WKU basketball for almost half a decade and in that time has become a celebrity in the city of Bowling Green. His love for basketball extends to the Lady Toppers as well— senior forward Chastity Gooch and Fant are engaged to be married this summer. The Hilltopper couple will both end their college basketball careers at the same time.

“I’m a little emotional about our last game— this going down— going down with a loss,” Fant said. “I can flashback coming in as a freshman playing in the tournament. Not really happy that we didn’t make it again this year, but I’m happy to play with the guys I’ve played with over these last four years and coach Harper and building the relationships I’ve had with these guys.”

The other half of the greatness that WKU was able to find was in a guard from Slidell, Louisiana. Almost committed to play defensive end in football, T.J. Price found a home at WKU the same time as Fant and became a very important piece to the Hilltopper puzzle. 

Price, like Fant, made an immediate impact his freshman season starting 20 games while averaging 27.9 minutes per game. The guard continued to develop his game and was looked upon by WKU as their primary scorer in the coming years.

Price went on to lead the Hilltoppers in scoring his next three seasons. Price averaged 15.2, 15.5 and a C-USA best 17.1 PPG in his college career. His mark this season is the most by a Hilltopper at the end of a season since Courtney Lee averaged 20.4 PPG in 2007-2008. He is also the first Hilltopper to lead their league in scoring since Jack Jennings in 1991-1992.

Price finishes his WKU career with 1,782 points and in sixth place on the all-time WKU career scoring list, a mark that will live on for many years to come.

“I hate that we went out this way,” Price told WBKO after his final game. “We probably broke down a couple plays and that helped them to score. We broke down a couple of plays on offense, but it wasn’t because of our effort. Everybody left it out there on the court and effort was fine.”

“I think they both (Fant and Price) rank up among the biggest contributors we’ve ever had from both an individual and team standpoint,” Athletic Director Todd Stewart said. “Individually, T.J. is the number six scorer all-time. I mean, you look at all the people that have played basketball at Western Kentucky, ranked sixth is pretty special. George, 13th in scoring and eighth in rebounding, so I mean, again, they leave a tremendous legacy from an individual standpoint, but they were winners also. They went to two NCAA tournaments and won 20 games their last three years. They didn’t just achieve individual success at the expense of winning, and I think that’s a true credit to both of them.”

The duo have been a part of two Sun Belt Conference Championships, two NCAA tournament appearances and a revival of WKU basketball in their time on the hill. George Fant and T.J. Price have anchored this team for almost half a decade. They will not soon be forgotten. On the contrary, they will be remembered in the hearts of WKU fans and high atop the record books.