March 4, 2009
By Lara Boyko
Special to NCAA.com
Being the center of attention is never easy. However, if you are 5-foo-9 junior guard Epiphanny Prince on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, shying away from the spotlight is not an option when you are playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
However, finding herself in the spotlight is something that took some time, patience and remembering that basketball is about more than just running up-and-down the court.
“It was a guy who was from my area who thought that since I was tall, I would be good at basketball,” said Prince on how she got started in the game. “When I first started off, I played in a high energy tournament and would play with the older guys. I was in fifth or sixth grade at the time and they were in junior high school. We didn’t have a good team and couldn’t score so my mom told me it was hard to watch at times as we looked like we were just running up-and-down the court. We didn’t win any of our games.”
Yet the winning times and being noticed were not too far away for Prince. During her high school years at Murry Bergtraum High School, Prince’s teams never lost a league game, but in her final game she made national headlines for scoring 113 points in a single game and established a new scoring record.
“I think it was my last home game and I was on-fire!” said Prince. “I couldn’t miss a shot so my coach kept telling me to shoot the ball because I could make history in that game. I just listened to him and think I hit 54-for-60 that game. I didn’t really care about the points as I just cared that I was efficient in doing it. I didn’t know about the record before that night. It wasn’t my intention to break it, but it was at half time when my coach told me I could make history, so when I got up to 80 points I just kept shooting.
“Later I did go to a game and talked to Lisa Leslie (who scored 101 points on her own in a high school game in 1990) and she told me that she had the same experience when she was in high school so I should just keep my head up and the negativity would go away soon. She also reminded me that records are meant to be broken.”
Whether she is breaking records or just being part of a winning team, Prince has continued to find herself in the spotlight and inspiring others since arriving at Rutgers two years ago.
First, Prince found herself as an inspiration to those closest to her as both her mother and grandmother choose to follow in Prince’s footsteps.
“My family is always competing so my mom and grandmother said they wouldn’t let me graduate from college before they did,” said Prince. “Now my grandmother has graduated from college and my mom just has another semester, but she will beat me too. I am not mad about this but I am happy because I inspired them to go back to school. I went to my grandma’s graduation and I plan on going to my mom’s. My grandma’s ceremony was not only surreal, but also long.”
It was also during her freshman year when Prince not only learned about tough love from her new head coach C. Vivian Stringer – who locked the team out of practice and took away all of their practice gear and team paraphernalia for playing poorly – and about hard work.
“It was a great experience,” said Prince, who finished third on the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game. “We dealt with a lot that year and put in a lot of work to get where we ended up. It felt good to know that hard work pays off. I didn’t know what to do or think about all of the things that happened with our team that season. I just tried to follow what the upperclassmen were doing in going through that situation and play up to the potential that she thought we had.”
Along with success, Prince also learned how to deal with hurtful words that year when her and her teammates found themselves as the target of controversial radio personality Don Imus.
“It is just something that happened that we had to go through. It hurt us at the beginning when it happened and I don’t like to think about it as it is in the past. People will say whatever they want about you and you just have to ignore them.”
While living through the Imus controversy was not fun, it did help toughen her skin for what has come since then. As the leading scorer at Rutgers last year (13.8 ppg) and to date this season with 19.1 ppg, Prince has been Rutgers’ go-to girl when it comes to shooting which has also made some people think of Prince as a ball hog.
“I don’t care what they have to say as I am doing everything that my coach has asked of me,” said Prince. “It’s not really her wanting me to shoot the ball all of the time, it’s that other people are not stepping up and taking the open shot when they have it. I am just assuming the role that they should be in.”
No matter what role Prince finds herself in for the rest of the season or her playing career at both the college and potentially the professional level, it is safe to say that she will continue to be talked about.
“We are just taking one game at a time and can’t look into the future right now,” said Prince.