Struggling Prince trying to find answers

After starting 5-1, and going toe-to-toe with the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx in its only loss, the Chicago Sky was visibly frustrated Friday night during a 14-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Allstate Arena.

Star forward Elena Delle Donne had a banner game with a career-high 33 points, but the Sky highlights were in short order after that.

The Sky then got blown out Saturday night in Atlanta, 97-59.

How nice it would have been for the Sky to be at full strength for the last two games. All-star center Sylvia Fowles is still a couple weeks away from returning from off-season hip surgery, and all-star guard Epiphanny Prince is still somewhat of a mysterious question mark.

During the Los Angles game, Prince was in uniform for the first time this season. But she did not see the floor.

In Atlanta, Prince made her season debut, but played only 9 minutes. She did, however, score 7 points.

She had been out until that point for personal reasons and joined the team only two weeks ago, battling what seems to be a severe case of mental exhaustion.

Like most WNBA players, Prince plays professional basketball nearly non-stop, trying to maximize her earning potential during the fall and winter months in the more lucrative leagues overseas. The best players can make seven-figure salaries overseas, as opposed to about $100,000 in the WNBA.

Having grown up in the projects of Brooklyn, Prince left Rutgers after her junior year so that she could start earning income for her parents and family.

She plays in Russia and still supports her family, which has made it difficult for her to slow down.

I wanted to try to get to the bottom of what is going on with Prince. If the first-place Sky is to make a serious run at a WNBA championship this summer, they'll need both Fowles (16.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg in 2013) and Prince (15 ppg, 3 apg in 2013) to be at full strength sooner rather than later.

After the Los Angeles game, I sat down with "Piph" in the Sky locker room. She was as soft-spoken as usual, but open to talking. Problem is, I left there not understanding much more than I did before I arrived.

That's probably the problem for Piph, too. I'm not sure she fully understands why she's struggling the way she is. But I can tell she's anxious to figure it out so that she can get back to being herself on the court. She still loves basketball, and knows that's where she belongs.

Here is our conversation:

Patricia Babcock McGraw: I wanted to check in with you and see where you're at with basketball.

Epiphanny Prince: "Basically, I'm just happy to be here and be back with the team and I'm trying to get my head right for the games."

PBM: Describe what's been going on with you. What led to this pause in action for you?

EP: "I don't really want to go into all of that. Basically, I just felt like I needed a break, not physically, but mentally. Sometimes, I feel like I'm here, but I'm still not here. I don't know, I was just emotionally and mentally drained (after playing in Russia over the winter) and I didn't think I would be able to play here with my mind like that."

PBM: Is it about too much basketball? Is it about being away from your family too much?

EP: "It's a combination of all that. Being away all the time, missing my family, and it's all because of basketball."

PBM: What kind of feedback have you been getting from your teammates and coaches?

EP: "I was talking to (assistant coach) Christie (Sides) and she thinks that maybe if I just play, my mind will be free. (Basketball) has always been my outlet. Maybe if I just play. But I don't know."

PBM: In the past, you would always turn to basketball when you were having a tough time with something in your life?

EP: "Yeah, and this is hard because the really tough thing for me right now is basketball. I don't know where to turn because it is basketball that is making me feel like this."

PBM: The grind for WNBA players can be a monster. Most of you play nearly year-round to maximize your earning potential. But at this point, do you need to re-evaluate how much basketball you're playing, for your own personal well-being?

EP: "Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. Playing overseas is how I take care of myself and my family, so it's not like I'm not going to play there. I've been doing this for five or six years straight. Maybe this little break is all I need, and then I can go another five or six years. You know that (the money and opportunities) won't always be there, so you've got to get it while you can."

PBM: Do you worry about what people are thinking, especially (against Los Angeles) when you were sitting on the bench in uniform and not playing. Do you ever worry about any kind of negative perceptions?

EP: "No, because my teammates, the coaches, my agent, they're all telling me that it doesn't matter what people think and I'm going to come back when I'm ready. People want me to come back, but if I'm not ready, I won't be able to help the team, so it wouldn't matter. If I came back before I was ready, then they'd just be saying that I'm stinking it up."

PBM: How much have you appreciated the understanding of the coaching staff, particularly head coach Pokey Chatman?

EP: "She's been amazing. She understands. She's not trying to force me to do anything. She told me that it's on my time and that when I'm ready just to let them know. She's lived it (the rigors of overseas life while coaching in Russia), so she's always telling me not to worry about what people are saying. She's been there, and they haven't."

PBM: How will you know when you're ready to come back and be yourself?

EP: "When I feel more comfortable in practice. Sometimes in practice, I know that I'm still not there. I'm there, but I'm like zoning out and I'm not really focused. I think when I get my focus back and I'm really in tune, I'll be able to feel it, because even now when I'm playing, I don't feel comfortable. I won't be so indecisive and I won't question what I'm doing like I am now."

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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