Tayshaun Prince is responsible for one of my most memorable experiences in Rupp Arena: February 6, 2001. Brett Nelson, Matt Bonner, Udonis Haslem, and Teddy Dupay (remember him?) invaded Rupp as the #9 team in the country. UK, sitting at 15-7 on the year, was unranked. It was a tight game, and Rupp was tense. Tense in a way only a blue-blooded, obsessive-compulsive UK fan can understand.; with every Kentucky basket euphoria ensues in the hallowed building, with each Gator basket one could hear Donovan's hair gel drip onto Cawood's Court. It was so tense that when a UK player missed a free throw a fan a few rows in front of me cried out, "aaaah Tubby!" (my brother Jason will attest), as if it was Smith's fault the kid missed the shot. Sound, logical reasoning wasn't in abundant supply. The crowd wanted a win, and wanted it badly.
The clock was winding down with Florida up one point. UK has possession; tick, tock, tick, tock ... Tayshaun ends up with the ball in his hands while his teamates spread the floor, giving him room to work his magic. Prince has the ball on the wing about 18 feet out, letting the clock wind down. Under 10 seconds to go, Prince does some type of spin move (Lord only knows), SLIPPING as he turns (Ken thinks, "game over"), but he recovers (thank God) and launches a 12-foot fall-away off-balance jumper that tickles the twine as sweetly as mom's Mississippi Mud cake tickles the taste buds. Positively "Princely" pandemonium.
I had always liked Tayshaun, but that night solidified him as one of my favorites. After all he did score 1,775 points in his UK career (8th all time), and he posted some huge numbers in big games while wearing the blue and white. I've always loved Kyle Macy and Jack Givens, Kenny Walker and Jamal Mashburn. John Pelphrey and Tony Delk. Tayshaun has now joined that rather elite group of ex-'Cats on my list of favorite players.
Coming straight out of loud, brash, and violent, Compton, California, Prince arrived in Lexington as unassumingly as a McDonald's All-America can; quiet, reserved, but with a big smile. He had escaped an area of the country as troubled as any other region in North America. Prince's childhood friends had vanished, either to prison, or the grave yard. The fact that he has become a highly productive citizen is a testament to his mother's good teachings, and his own acceptance of her wisdom. Tayshaun didn't just make it out of Compton because he can ball. Prisons are full of the "next Michael Jordans". He made it out because he made good decisions as a teen, and even better decisions as an adult. He knew the difference between right and wrong. Most importantly though, he knew that "right' was life, and "wrong" was prison or death.
So many times we blame a kids background for his or her bad behavior, but Prince is a shining example of a good kid coming out of a very bad circumstance. So many times a story like his ends in tragedy. Not this time. Tayshaun and his mother are to be commended for the triumph that Prince's life has become.
Of course, on the court Tay Tay is at it again. This time blocking a potentially game winning shot by Hedo Turkoglu in Tuesday's game five of the Eastern Conference semi-finals versus the Orlando Magic. The block sealed the victory and another appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals for the Detroit Pistons ( in case anyones counting, that is six Eastern Conference Finals appearances in a row).
As one probably knows, he's done this before: In game two of the Eastern Conference Finals in '04, Prince came out of nowhere, as if a skinny man shot out of a cannon, to block Reggie "Should've dunked it" MIller's layup attempt with seventeen-seconds remaining in the game. That block sealed another playoff victory for the Pistons. In the '03 NBA Playoffs, Prince hit a sweet hook-shot in the final seconds giving Detroit a victory over Philadelphia in game two of their series. Just the other night, he hit an 11-foot runner in the lane to win game four for Detroit in their series with Orlando. The guy has a knack for making the play at the end of games. Tayshaun feel pressure? Pressure is being awakened every night by gun-fire. This ain't nothin'.
Steady under pressure, and smartly carrying out his duties, Tayshaun has become an invaluable member of one of the best teams in the NBA. Yet, he doesn't run with a posse, he isn't beating up women in the club, he's not abetting felons in the commission of crimes, he's not getting pulled over at 3 a.m., he's not juicing, and he's not brandishing weapons. Prince simply does his job, and does it quite well (All-NBA Defensive Second Team four years in a row). There are many players in the Association who would be better people if they would take a look at how Prince conducts himself both on and off the court. For that matter, there are many professional athletes in general who would be deemed wiser men if they followed the excellent example Tayshaun sets; go to work, do your job, and stay out of trouble. Easy enough? Evidently not.
With Spygate, Clemens, Bonds, Vick, McGwire, Chris Henry, Pacman, Kelvin Sampson, and the rest of the disorderly, athletes of Prince's ilk don't often receive the attention they deserve. And when one is as quiet and unassuming as Prince is, it is especially easy to miss his contribution. Not only on the court, but more importantly off-court, in how he lives his life. So many similar to him chose less wisely. The result being tragedy, or a tragically short career. Many times the environment the athlete grew up in is pointed to as the root cause of the self-destruction, but Prince is proof that tragic beginnings can become magical endings.
Thanks for reading, and Go Pistons!