Music blasts from the speakers and dozens of preteens dribble basketballs as Taurean Prince enters the gym of South Atlanta High School. This is just one of many camps that the Atlanta Hawks forward and his father, Anthony, conduct each year, both in Atlanta and in their home town of San Antonio, Texas.
Prince circles the gym, greeting each parent watching from the bleachers-and there are quite a few of them-and personally thanking each one of them for bringing their child to learn basketball and life lessons from an NBA player for the day.
Why are these community events so meaningful for Prince?
“I think it’s because of my upbringing, just not having everything that I always wanted,” he explains. “I never had somebody to come in my town every year and give back to us and give us a vision as far as where we could go.”
With events like this camp, he’s making sure that the next generation of kids won’t have the same experience he did.
One of the most noticeable things about Prince’s style of play is his tenacity. He dives after every lose ball. He hustles for every rebound within reach.
“I think that just comes from wanting to be very good at what I do as far as being a professional athlete,” he says. “I feel like you never know when it could all be taken from you.”
This persistence and dedication has led the 24-year old forward to becoming one of the key cogs of the new youth-led movement in Atlanta.
Prince’s journey hasn’t been easy. He and his father moved around a lot in the San Antonio area when Taurean was a kid, and at times even found themselves homeless. That unsteady home life growing up is one reason why his profile name on both Instagram and Twitter is “Forever Humble.”
“[Obstacles] are gonna come. No life is an easy life, so if you can get over every roadblock that’s thrown your way, I think it only makes you a stronger person,” he says. Roadblocks would indeed come at every turn on his path to the NBA.
Prince doesn’t remember when he first realized he had the potential to make a career out of basketball. In fact, he only started playing basketball because he didn’t want to play an outdoor sport in the Texas heat. He says, “[I was] just playing it for leisure purposes, and I really didn’t feel like I had a big chance until I went to college, seeing those coaches come in and out from the [NBA].”
Anthony Prince, however, saw his son’s star potential early on, starting with Taurean’s time in a YMCA league in Arlington. “When he was about nine years old, he could dribble at that age better than most kids could,” the elder Prince says. “It was just unbelievable what he would do with the basketball in his hands, how quickly he could take it up and down the court…He looked like he didn’t belong on the court with them.”
Despite this natural basketball instinct and his favorable genetics, Prince was still not a heavily recruited high school prospect, mainly receiving Division II offers.
Prince initially signed with Long Island University before a coaching change at the school reopened his recruitment eligibility. That’s when the Baylor Bears came calling. “I think I signed like three days later, it being three hours from where I grew up,” he says.
At Baylor, Prince averaged 3.7 and 6.2 points per game in his first two seasons, respectively, while seeing limited playing time. Not surprisingly, he remained undeterred, continuing to work his way up the ranks of the Baylor program.
He says, “The scouts [came] to watch [Baylor teammates] Rico Gathers, Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Pierre Jackson, all those guys, and I wanted them to be there for me. I always told myself that they were there for me, so I practiced and played as if they were. Next thing you know I was on the [NBA] draft board my junior year, and just kept it going.”
One of the more memorable moments of Prince’s tenure with the Bears was his quote about rebounds that followed Baylor’s loss to Yale in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The public reaction to his comment startled him. “People don’t realize that that was literally probably less than about ten minutes from the time we lost,” he recalls. “They didn’t give us time to go to the locker room to calm down or anything, so it was a genuine answer. It just so happened to be one of the most sarcastic answers I’ve given.”
Prince would finish his senior season at Baylor with averages of 15.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. This, along with his height and nearly 7’0″ wingspan, prompted many draft experts to project him to be a mid-to-upper first-round pick. Sure enough, Atlanta took him twelfth overall with a pick that was acquired from the Utah Jazz.
Prince could finally exhale when he found out that he had been drafted. “[It was] a milestone that I put my mind to and I actually reached,” he says. “When you do things like that, when you put your mind to something and it takes years to reach, and you know it takes years to reach, but you steady push every single day in order to get it…I think that takes real leadership, real guts, and real focus.”
The newly-drafted Prince didn’t see much playing time early in his rookie year, but he slowly worked his way into the lineup, eventually earning a starting spot in Atlanta’s playoff series against the Wizards.
No one was happier than his father. Describing how he felt when he heard that Taurean would be starting, Anthony says, “One word. ‘Finally.’ I felt that he had finally come to that point in his life where he had proven not only to the coaches, not only to people who watch the NBA, he had finally proven to himself that he belonged.”
Last season, following the departures of Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Dwight Howard, Prince became the second-leading scorer on the Hawks, averaging just over 14 points per game. Although the team only won 24 games, Prince put together a solid sophomore season, at one point scoring 38 points twice in a four-game span.
After the basketball portion of the camp concludes, Prince gathers the eagerly-listening kids for some words of advice and of course, to highlight the importance of giving back to your community. One of the main points of his speech is the importance of patience, a virtue he knows very well.
Afterwards, he takes pictures with the youngsters, signs autographs, and hands out pizza, concluding an unbelievable experience for the kids.
The small forward now finds himself at a crossroads in his basketball career. Off-season roster moves have left Prince as one of the longest-tenured Hawks, entering just his third year.
Fortunately, he has plenty of leadership experience. “I was a senior in college two years ago, so I have leadership qualities,” he explains. “It’s all about really just figuring out who can take certain things, as far as coaching, as far as being led. You can’t talk with everybody the same.”
He also intends to lead the younger Hawks by example. “I’m not a fan of guys trying to be leaders that don’t work hard and gain the respect of their peers,” he explains bluntly.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Prince is arguably the most complete player on the Hawks’ roster, but he knows he still has room for improvement. For starters: “Consistency. Just being consistent. Doing whatever it is that I do at a high level every single night, eighty-two times.”
Consistency will certainly be a sizable task for a player asked to do the majority of the scoring for the first time in his NBA career.
When looking back at how far Prince has come, it would be easy for him to be satisfied with where he is now. But, of course, he isn’t.
“I look forward to the future, but I always focus on the present. Staying true to the people around you, staying true to myself, and just being genuine,” he says.
Make no mistake. With his humble beginnings, breakout moments, and everything in between under his belt, Taurean Prince is poised to raise eyebrows around the league.
Perhaps no one puts it better than his father. “The tools that this kid has, he’s like a rough diamond. He’s still uncut. There’s still so much for this young man to learn…I can’t wait to see what he comes with in the next two years…I’m ecstatic about it.”
Jackson Stone – @tdjs_network
To see the full Q&A, click here.
Special thank you to Taurean Prince and Anthony Prince for giving interviews for this article!