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U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL : Hambly Gives Price the View to a Kill : Middle Blocker Puts On Display for North and Coach He Wanted to Play for at CSUN


SAN ANTONIO — John Price's story about the big one that got away is not a typical fish tale.

At one time, Kevin Hambly wanted nothing more than a chance to play volleyball for Price at Cal State Northridge.

He was hooked on the school because it was close to his family's Simi Valley home. Plus, the Matadors had a strong volleyball program, led by Coley Kyman and Ken Lynch, players he respected.

Hambly, a standout at Royal High, was there for Northridge's and Price's taking.

But Price never dropped him a line.

So Hambly escaped, fled actually, to Brigham Young. There he became a starter as a freshman and a star as a sophomore.

"I remember seeing him play as a freshman and he wasn't really ready," Price said this week, "but you could tell he was going to be good. I knew I was going to hate myself for four years."

As if he needed a reminder, Price has witnessed up close this week all that his collegiate team is missing.

Hambly, a solid 6-foot-7, plays middle blocker for Price's North team in the Olympic Festival. With 28 kills and 14 blocks in two matches, he has been instrumental in leading the North to a berth in tonight's gold medal match against the East.

"I was impressed by him before this week, but after practicing with him and seeing how he's played, I'm even more impressed," Price said.

"There is no longer any doubt. He is my biggest recruiting mistake. Put that one in the oops file."

Hambly and Price have talked about the reasons he might have been overlooked. In previous years, there had been other Royal players who attended Northridge who were unable to crack the Matadors' lineup.

"No excuses, though," Price said. "I just didn't know as much about him as I should have. I mean, I've overlooked guys before, but what really bothers me is that he's a local guy."

Apparently, Price has learned his lesson, albeit the hard way. This spring, Royal hitter Jason Hughes was the Matadors' top recruit.

For his part, Hambly doesn't hold a grudge, although he did find it "strange" that Northridge didn't contact him while UCLA, USC, Hawaii, Penn State, Cal State Long Beach, Brigham Young and others did.

"I wanted to go to Northridge," Hambly said. "It would have been a lot easier to stay at home."

Hambly said he has enjoyed playing for Price in the Festival because "John lets us play relaxed. All he asks is that we be steady."

Rather than impressing his coach, Hambly has been concentrating on the rest of the volleyball world. At BYU, he said, he has been cast in the shadow of Ethan Watts, a middle blocker who was a second-team All-American.

"I just want to show I can play," Hambly said. "It's not that I'm mad or upset about being overshadowed because Ethan is a great player. But I'd just like people to know there's another middle (blocker) at BYU."

In the North's first match, Hambly had 14 kills and a match-high 10 blocks. In the second, he had 14 kills and a match-high four blocks. He was rested in the team's third match Thursday when Price played his second-string unit.

Well, at least Hambly was supposed to rest.

Although the result of the contest meant nothing--the North and East already had secured their places in the gold medal match--Hambly found it difficult to sit still.

With the match tied one game each and the score tied, 8-8, in the third game, Hambly and North teammate Neil Mendel stirred up the crowd by instigating two rhythmic clapping sequences.

When the North responded by scoring five consecutive points, Hambly skipped onto the floor to exchange high-fives after the East was forced to take a timeout.

"He is an intense competitor, but he also is very team oriented," Price said of Hambly. "Those are the kinds of guys who you like to have in your program."

When the Festival is over, Hambly has been invited to train with the U.S. "B" team, a developmental squad for the U.S. national team that will compete in the Olympics.

He is among only four players in the Festival to receive an invitation. The others are Ken Lynch of Northridge, Mark Presho of Hawaii and John Hyden of San Diego State.

Price will not be surprised if Hambly someday earns a place on the Olympic team.

"He has the tools, but then there are a lot of guys out there who do," Price said. "What sets guys like him apart is that they have the desire to be great."

In that way, Price compares Hambly to Kyman, Northridge's former All-American middle blocker.

"Probably the biggest similarity between him and Coley is that they are both natural leaders," Price said. "They have the personality and the court sense that great players have."

Kyman and Hambly could have had one other thing in common. For two years, they could have been teammates.

"I've been kicking myself," Price said. "My footprints are all over me."

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