ATLANTA — Oscar Wilde once said, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” For Atlanta Hawks rookie small forward Taurean Prince, nothing could prove more true: trials and heartaches defined his journey to the NBA. Basketball altered the course of his life.
What could have been a story of defeat turned out to be one of triumph through perseverance for the Texas native.
Following his parents’ divorce, Prince elected to move with his father, Anthony, to San Angelo, Texas, a mid-sized West Texas town 200 miles northwest of Austin known more for livestock and cattle than basketball. In San Angelo, Prince’s obstacles grew taller.
At just 12 years old, Prince found himself spending nights in a nearby Salvation Army with his father. The duo stayed there for 30 days. Through thick and thin, instead of finding excuses, he continued to find the positive in everything and continued to work to make something out of his life.
For Taurean Prince, those 30 days staying at the Salvation Army strengthened him.
“I remember walking early to school one morning,” Anthony said. “I had to walk him to his bus stop from that place and then I had to go to work. It was about 30 degrees in the morning and I turned around because I was frustrated that morning, and I asked him, ‘Man, how can you smile?’ He looked at me and just said, ‘Dad, if we just stay cool, everything will be alright.’ All I could do was let go of the frustration and continue with his determined walk. It wasn’t even cold any longer. That 30 days I think not molded him, but it shifted and made his character.”
Prince continued to trust his father — he knew he would keep him safe. Instead of running to tell family or friends about their situation, he remained quiet.
“I never give up on anything as far as life, basketball and family. You have to stay loyal to the people that are loyal to you, and stay out of the way of things that you can’t control, and just grind,” Prince said. “ … That being said, I didn’t go run and tell my mom, I didn’t tell my friends, I didn’t tell anyone. I just kept it between me and my dad. Whoever he told, he told, but at that time I just kept it between us.
“I didn’t let myself let other people know that way they didn’t have their opinion about it, and that way I didn’t have to worry about people judging me and stuff like that. Like I said earlier, stay loyal to the people that are loyal to you. My pops is loyal to me, so I stay loyal to him.”
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With this mindset, and loyalty to his father, Prince was able to maneuver his way through his formative years as he went to stay with one of his close friends, Bowdy Thompson and his family, for a short stint to finish middle school at Lincoln Middle while his father was away. A single mother of three, Candina Kent (then Thompson) didn’t ask questions, Prince said. Instead, she welcomed him into their home with open arms.
“It is special when you have a family like that who will take somebody in without knowing the situation and just embracing him as if he were your own. It was a great couple of years of being in that household,” Prince recalled. “They never treated me differently. I was treated as if I were one of her sons. It is crazy because many people would have had judgement on those types of situations. The fact that everybody still had their judgement, but at the same time they still made me feel comfortable. It felt like I was in the right place.”
After middle school, though never forgetting the Thompsons’ kindness, Prince was able to return to San Antonio to live with his mother, younger sister Catina and younger brother Derrick.
However, instead of solely pursuing his education and basketball career, he willingly stepped into a fatherly role to his siblings.
“It was very important then and it is very important now to be there for them,” Prince said. “Just knowing that they can come and talk to me about anything, and knowing that they look up to me, I live everyday trying to be the best brother to my brother, the best brother to my sister, and best son to my mother.”
With all the chaos going on in his life, Prince held off playing basketball until his sophomore year at Earl Warren High School in San Antonio, Texas. It was around this time that San Antonio Legends head coach John Collins first saw Prince play.
“I noticed he had good height and length, and I knew that was something I could work with if I had the opportunity,” Collins said. “I told Prince that if he worked with me for six months, I would help him get the free education he had been hoping for.”
Marcus Keene, who is the nation’s current Division I leading scorer at Central Michigan, urged Prince to join his AAU team. Once Prince finally jumped on board, Collins would pick them up after the school’s basketball practice for additional workouts. Before ever stepping foot on the court, Prince and Keene pushed through grueling two-and-a-half mile runs, followed by rigorous weight lifting. Exhausted from the day’s events, they would then head to the court for extra shooting drills.
Never asking his players for anything in return for his time, Collins said he simply wanted them to work hard and, when they made it to where they were going, to give back to the community so others could have the same opportunity to accomplish something with their lives.
“He really brought that work ethic out of me, and he really brought the dog that I needed to compete at a high level, and helped me really bring that passion.” Prince said. “He really means a lot to me. He means a lot to my career now, and my career then. He helped get me here. Without him, and family, and close friends and good friends, I don’t think I would be where I am at right now.”
Prince developed into a strong perimeter player, leading his high school team to a 35-6 record over three seasons and a trip to the state semifinals his senior season during which he averaged 21.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game.
Prince’s dedication to the game impressed not only his coaches and teammates, but college scouts as well as they began to take notice in the 6-foot-8 forward. Prince would sign with Long Island-Brooklyn prior to his senior season. However, a coaching change at Long Island-Brooklyn released Prince from his obligation, and opened doors at Baylor University.
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“Baylor gave a young man the chance to further his education, become a better basketball player, better the community and take that to better himself and his family,” Anthony said. “Baylor afforded him better opportunities and he took advantage of those opportunities given to him.”
“I think Baylor helped make him into the man he is today, and the man he will be in the future.”
Coming off the bench for three seasons under head coach Scott Drew, Prince earned himself a spot in the starting lineup his senior season. With a strong work ethic on and off the court, Prince was able to find his groove at Baylor and impressed scouts enough to warrant a first-round draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Now as a rookie in the NBA, Prince is fulfilling his goals.
“It has been a great experience,” said Prince, who is averaging 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in his rookie campaign. “Getting to be around a lot of good people, good veterans. I am just living out my dream in the NBA.”
Not only is Prince starting to see more minutes in his first season at the NBA level, but he continues to remember those who helped him along the way and plans to make the most of his opportunity.
Prince is staying true to his word, returning the favor back to Collins and other kids in need. The Hawks rookie is sponsoring his former AAU team, which is now called Prince Elite.
As Prince reflects on his past, he continues to see the positives.
However, as Prince’s journey starts to take off, there is one thing that his father would want his son to learn from him, and that is to stay down to earth and never lose his drive.
“Sometimes when you continue to work you get into the habit of just working instead of working like you did when you had nothing,” Anthony said. “My want for my son is to work every day like it is your first day on the job.”
Some moments can break us. Others strengthen us.
It is our responses to those moments that make us into who we are.
“Just because you have a bad situation in your life doesn’t mean you can make up an excuse or use it as an excuse to go do something that you know you aren’t supposed to do,” Prince said. “As a child, I tried to turn every negative into a positive because you never really know what can happen in life. Just have to let go of everything, and let God take care of it all.”