By any name, Sky's Prince a true scoring threat
Chicago Sky head coach Pokey Chatman has been pushing guard Epiphanny Prince to take charge on the floor. This season, Prince has responded and leads the WNBA in scoring.
Associated Press/2011 file
In the Twitter world, Chicago Sky guard Epiphanny Prince can be reached at #Piphdagreat10.
The handle includes her Sky jersey number and is derived from one of the many nicknames given to her by either childhood friends or the boys she played basketball with in her Brooklyn neighborhood.
"People in my neighborhood are always giving you nicknames," said Prince, who was big news not only in her neighborhood but all around New York City and the nation when she scored a national record 113 points in a high school basketball game in 2006. "They called me 'MVP' for a while. Then they called me 'Shake' because I was crossing people up (off the dribble). Then, it was 'Miss Prince,' because they said I was a grown lady amongst the girls. Then they called me the 'Weapon of Mass Destruction.'
"A lot of people also called me 'Piph the Great.' But a lot of people in my neighborhood had 'the Great' added to the end of their names, so I don't really know if you had to be great or even a basketball player for that. But I just got used to that one the most."
Hence the Twitter handle, which has been fitting lately.
Prince has been beyond great in her last two games, both dramatic Sky victories.
She scored 31 points last Friday in a 65-63 win over Washington at Allstate Arena, including 16 points in the fourth quarter. The next night in Atlanta, she willed the Sky back from a 22-point deficit. Her 33-point outburst, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at the end of regulation, helped the Sky notch a 94-92 victory in overtime.
Fittingly, Prince was named the Eastern Conference player of the week. It was the first such honor of Prince's career, which is now in its third year and in full-on breakout mode.
Prince has been a key contributor for the Sky since she arrived here in 2010, averaging 9.8 points per game as a rookie and 13.6 ppg last summer. But she had yet to kick it into the "Piphdagreat" scoring machine mode that she was known for in high school and in college at Rutgers, where she averaged nearly 20 ppg per game in her final season.
Now, with her 23.8 scoring average, Prince is the leading scorer in the WNBA.
"My mom (Kathy) was texting me after the (Atlanta) game and she said, 'You look like the old Piph from high school,'" Prince said with a laugh. "We actually got two days off after that game so I went home and my dad (Jerry) was all excited and all of my aunts and everybody wanted to watch the video."
What they saw was a more confident Prince, a more comfortable Prince. She says she is no longer reluctant to take over in a game when needed. She's enough of a veteran to make that call now.
"I've always been confident in what I can do, but I think a big difference is that I feel like this is my team now, at least on the perimeter," Prince said. "The last couple years, I really didn't feel that way. I would (defer to older players). Or, I would be thinking that Syl (all-star center Sylvia Fowles) could just do it.
"But at the end of games, a lot of times the ball is in the guards' hands and if something needs to be done, if a play needs to be made, I feel now that it should be me to make it. I want it to be me."
So does Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who is glad she no longer has to beg Prince to take charge.
"Sometimes it was me saying to her 'Please, just take over,' Chatman said. "Now, it's the maturation process that we're seeing. Piph is also trusting her instincts more. I keep telling her that she's one of five or six players in this league who can create her own shot, and I think she's believing in that now."
Prince never stopped believing in the Sky last weekend, even during that 22-point deficit in Atlanta.
"I kept saying, 'There's still time left. We can still win,'" Prince said. "My teammates were giving me confidence, too. Swin (Cash) was calling me a killer and I just played off of that. I felt like I had good shots."
"Maybe that last shot in Atlanta (an off-balance running three-pointer as time expired), wasn't so great. But it went in."
Prince says she hit thousands of those "buzzer-beaters" at the playground as a kid.
"The ones that didn't go in, I would always say that they didn't count," Prince laughed.
Prince got into basketball later, preferring before then to dance and enter school talent shows with other girls.
"But they also liked to play with dolls a lot and I got bored with that so I started hanging out with all my cousins, and they're all boys," Prince said. "All they did was play basketball so I started playing, too.
"One day, one of the guys told me that I should just put the ball down because a girl would never be able to beat a boy. That made me want to beat him and I started playing all the time. All the guys were taller than me and they could jump, so that's where I learned how to double-pump and all that stuff so that they wouldn't block my shot.
"I'm happy I stuck with it because basketball has taken me a lot of places in life."
Basketball has also helped Prince make quite a name (or in her case, a lot of cool nicknames) for herself.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw has been covering the Chicago Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games on Comcast CN100.
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