THE NURSE walked into the intensive-care unit room, announced that the patient's blood pressure had crept up to a dangerous 212/160 and, spying the worried parents, looked at the other man in the room.

"She told me to just hold the parents together," Jim Calhoun remembered.

In his 35 years in college basketball, the University of Connecticut coach has seen pretty much everything his job can dish out. He's ridden the wave to two national championships and a place in the basketball Hall of Fame and also suffered the crushes of lousy seasons and losing streaks.

Never, though, has one player been responsible for more of an emotional roller coaster than A.J. Price. From fear to relief to disappointment and finally now to the regular ups and downs of a basketball season that flitters from praise to exasperation and back again, Price has injected more drama into his years at the Storrs, Conn., school than most people can cram into a lifetime.

It is all behind him now, the near-fatal brain hemorrhage that left Price with a 2-week gap in his memory and the laptop scandal that cost him a season on the court. He's just a basketball player finally, a kid trying to find his way for a struggling UConn team that hosts Villanova at 7 tonight.

Then again, it's never really gone. The measure of a man is rarely taken by his triumphs but rather by his ability to overcome his faults.

"What I went through, I think it has helped me become more mature," the sophomore point guard said. "It made me realize that I needed to be more responsible, that I needed to grow up."

Still weak after his 2-year break, Price - like Connecticut - has been up and down this season. He averages 9.7 points and 3.5 assists per game but his play has been spotty at times, forcing Calhoun to call on Craig Austere to split time at the point.

Calhoun takes part of the blame, admitting that he didn't push Price in the weight room as hard as he should have.

"That's unusual for me," the coach said. "But I was worried about his blood pressure. Even though the doctors told me he was OK, seeing a kid in the ICU, that stays with you."

Price would have been an interesting tale without the drama. His father, Tony, was an all-tournament member on Penn's storied 1979 Final Four team. With that family legacy, A.J. grew up a basketball junkie, a kid who would be quizzed on the way home from his dad's pickup games about the nuances of the game.

Nicknamed the "Assassin" by Calhoun because of his baby-face features, Price took his father's lessons, the one-on-one battles ("I played him until he started fouling me because he couldn't keep up," Price joked) and starred at Amityville (N.Y.) High School, sharing the court for a time alongside Villanova graduate Jason Fraser. Price led Amityville to two state championships, averaged 28.5 points his senior year and, like Fraser, was named a McDonald's All-American.

Long a target for Calhoun, Price packed his bags for Connecticut, where the superstar was expected to keep the Huskies' dominance of college basketball in place a year after their 2004 national championship.

Instead, before he could enjoy his first official practice, Price was in the hospital fighting for his life. Unbeknownst to him, Price had been born with arteriovenous malformations or AVMs, a condition in which masses of blood vessels form in the brain. A ticking bomb, they often lead to bleeding in the brain.

Sick and vomiting for days, Price was airlifted from Connecticut's campus to a Hartford hospital on Oct. 5, 2004, where doctors discovered the brain hemorrhage. "There are 2 weeks that I don't remember," Price said of the time he left the dormitory through the 11-day coma.

Doctors waited 4 months for Price to gain enough strength before performing the radiosurgery treatment the condition requires. Finally. in May 2005 he was given his full medical clearance.

You'd think that would transform a person, make them appreciate every precious moment. But Price was still just a kid and even when it stares them straight in the face, kids rarely appreciate their own mortality.

Price returned to Connecticut eager to resume his life and his basketball career only to KO himself. In August 2005, he and teammate Marcus Williams were charged with felony larceny after stolen laptops were found in their dormitories. Williams came clean about the stolen property but Price originally lied, adding another offense - lying to police - to his charges. Though they weren't responsible for the thefts - another man has since been charged - they suffered the consequences more publicly. Williams was suspended for the first semester but because of his lie, Price was suspended from the team for a year and from the university for the fall semester.

Sentenced to 18 months probation and 400 hours of community service, the player who had earned so many warm wishes and hopes while in the hospital returned to New York held up as another example of a self-important kid who didn't think the rules applied to him.

"Do I expect that from Tony Price's kid? Absolutely not," Calhoun said. "I know Tony is tough on him but I also know because of his basketball Tony had some popularity and like my own kids, I'm sure A.J. took advantage of that a little bit.

"In college, kids do stupid things. I did stupid things. We all have. This is a stupid thing. Do I think my players are going to go into someone's room and steal something? No. But if someone gave them something, do I think they'd keep it? Yeah, some of them would. I was disappointed that they didn't think about the ramifications of what they did, but does it surprise me? When you deal with 18- to 22-year-old kids as long as I have, nothing surprises you and any coach worth his salt will tell you the same. They did something stupid and they should have paid the price for it, and they did pay the price for it."

The price was a big one. Along with the public humiliation, Price had to watch his Connecticut team ride a No. 1 ranking for the better part of last year only to be eliminated by George Mason in the NCAA Tournament and wonder if the team, so obviously in need of a point guard, might have won it all had he played.

But the bigger question was did Price finally get it? Did he understand that basketball talent doesn't equate to human invincibility?

"When I spoke to him, I told him, 'I'm not even going to talk about what happened. It's over. You can't change it,' " said Fraser, who remains close friends with his former high school teammate. "I told him, 'I'm going to talk to you about how you react now.' We all have our things, our own growing pains but it's about how we come out of them. When something like that happens, you can go two ways - up or down. You can repeat the trouble or you can learn from it. We haven't heard anything else about A.J., so I know which way he chose."

The next challenge for Price should be the simplest - to become the basketball player he was in Amityvile. Calhoun has no doubt that the player he recruited will re-emerge, that he still sees the savvy smarts of good decision-making, the quickness and the pure ability.

What Price needs is the one luxury that fans never afford their athletes. He needs time.

"People expect you to just come back to where you are but it takes a little longer than that," Price said. "A lot of people, they heard about me but they had never seen me play and didn't care about the 2 years off. It was like some sort of urban legend I was supposed to live up to."

Price, though, has learned not to worry about what other people expect or think or say. If his experiences have taught him anything it is to simply be. Confident that he still has the same basketball player he watched play 3 years ago, Calhoun is equally confident he no longer has the same person.

"He's a different person," Calhoun said. "I don't know how else to say it. He's a different person."

McDonald's recruit

Villanova next season will welcome another McDonald's All-American to campus. Corey Stokes recently was named to the high school all-star team. The forward averaged 18 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists for St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.), which was ranked the No. 1 high school team in the nation until St. Patrick High (Elizabeth, N.J.), led by another Villanova recruit, Corey Fisher, knocked the team from its perch. Stokes becomes the third McDonald's All-American recruited to Villanova by Jay Wright, joining Jason Fraser and current rookie point guard Scottie Reynolds. *