Wildcat World Champion: Tayshaun Prince
Conclusion of a six-part series.
Over the next six weeks, UKathletics.com will be showcasing six former Kentucky student-athletes who have gone on to win major championships in their respective professional sports throughout the past year. Each Thursday, a new player will be profiled.
Never before has Kentucky athletes reined as world champions in football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer and Olympics concurrently until now. Being a Kentucky Wildcat has become synonymous with being a champion more so now than perhaps ever. The list of former Wildcats who have won a championship this year is simply staggering; gold medal winner in the Summer 2008 Olympics Tayshaun Prince, game-four starter for the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies Joe Blanton, U.S. member of the 2008 winning Ryder Cup team J.B. Holmes, starting point-guard for the world-champion Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo, goalie for the Major League Soccer champion Columbus Crew's Andy Gruenebaum and quarterback for the 2008 NFL world-champion New York Giants Jared Lorenzen.
By Marcus Shanks, Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
The first came from the top of the key. The next came two steps to the left. The third and fourth were just a few feet outside the right corner. Then, with 16:15 left in the first half and his heels on the UK logo at halfcourt, Tayshaun Prince pulled up and knocked down his fifth straight 3-pointer.
The voices rose with every shot, the rafters pounded with every swish. Prince etched his mark with every memorable jump shot finding the bottom of the basket as North Carolina and Kentucky clashed on the hardwood.
"It is a remarkable feeling, especially when you hit four or five shots in a row and get the team going in a game like this," Prince said following the victory over the Tar Heels in 2001. "This game was unbelievable, especially playing a team like North Carolina. As a little kid you dream about games like this."
“The performance was epic, even by Rupp standards,” ESPN.com's Andy Katz said after the game.
Former coach Tubby Smith called Prince's shooting possessed that day.
The North Carolina game solidified Prince's name in Wildcat lore for generations to come. His time at Kentucky helped set the stage for his future NBA and Olympic career.
Coming in as a high school McDonald's All-American, the expectations were high for Prince. In his four years as a Wildcat, the 6-foot-9 forward left no stone unturned as he became the quintessential college player with his prolific scoring and tenacious defense.
The Compton, Calif., native led Kentucky to SEC tournament championships in 1999 and 2001. In the 2001 finals, Prince earned Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 26 points and cleaning the glass with 12 rebounds. It was a run of eight SEC tournament championships in 10 years for Kentucky.
During his junior campaign, Prince won the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and led the SEC in free-throw percentage (84.3). Prince was named a second-team Associated Press All-American after his junior season and a third-team AP All-American after his senior season. In his four-year tenure with the Wildcats, he averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Prince finished as the seventh-leading scorer in UK history with 1,775 points and second on the all-time list for 3-point shots made with 204.
“Tayshaun is a king, not a prince,” Bill Rafferty, of CBS Sports, said of Prince's college career.
In 2002, Prince was selected 23rd overall in the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. In his rookie year, Prince played the role of student, taking every opportunity he could to learn as much about the game in his limited playing time. Spending his offseason in Florida training, Prince came in for his sophomore season primed to earn his keep as a defensive specialist.
He was a key to the Pistons' 2004 world championship run. In the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Prince's block against Indiana Pacers' Reggie Miller potential late-game tying shot has become a perennial SportsCenter favorite highlight clip.
"In that situation, a two-point game, I've just got to make a play on the ball," Prince said. "Before I got there I knew it was going to be a tough play, but once I put my hand on the ball it was a good block.
"He slowed up just a little bit at the last second and gave me time to get there."
The block helped win the game for the Pistons, who went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in five games.
"A lot of people don't get the opportunity to experience winning an NBA championship, getting to the finals,” Prince said. “Those types of things don't come without hard work."
What Prince was doing on the court did not go unnoticed by the selection committee for the 2008 men's national team. On June 23, 2008, Prince was chosen for the Olympic squad to travel to Beijing for the summer Olympics. The Olympic team, nicknamed the “Redeem Team,” was on a quest to win a gold medal for the United States in men's basketball for the first time since 2000.
Prince was a pivotal player for the “Redeem Team” coming off the bench, where he averaged 10.8 minutes and shot 59.1 percent from the field.
In the 118-107 victory against Spain during the gold-medal match, Prince scored six points on 3-of-3 from the floor for the victorious American squad.
“It's a different feeling because you're representing your country and, obviously, having the anthem being played at the end, when we're standing on the stage - those type of things that don't happen in the NBA when you win a championship,” Prince said in the Lexington Herald-Leader after winning the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal. “Representing your country, I think that's what sets it apart.”
Having Prince on the court has been a moniker for success at every level in his career. From his play at Dominguez High School to representing the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games, Prince has proved himself as a valued commodity in how he represents himself on and off the court.