It is Aug. 1, 2012, and Epiphanny Prince hasn’t played in a basketball game in 45 days.
She sits on a folding chair at the edge of the court and watches. She watches her team practice without her. She watches her coach scream at the defense. Even as a team trainer massages her toes, her eyes stay on the court. She was born in Brooklyn, but this is her home.
Prince was leading the WNBA in scoring when she fractured her foot during a June 16 game against the Indiana Fever. “Our record was 7-1. We won six games in a row,” recalls Will Steinberg, the Chicago Sky’s director of media relations. “And then Epiphanny got hurt. Our record’s been 1-8 since then.”
In 2006, while attending Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan, Prince scored 113 points in a game breaking the previously-held national high school record by Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller. Prince attended Rutgers University from 2006-2009, double-majoring in African-American Studies and Criminal Justice, but left a year early to play in Turkey, where she averaged 19.1 points per game.
On April 8, 2010, in front of both of her parents, the 5-foot-9 guard was drafted fourth overall by the Chicago Sky. She played in all 34 games that year and averaged 9.8 points per game. The following year she increased her scoring average to 13.6 point per game, and this season, before her injury, she elevated her game to the heights expected of a No. 4 draft pick, scoring 22.3 points and grabbing 4.2 rebounds per game.
“This was the first time I’ve ever been on crutches, the first time I got hurt,” explains Prince. Now, the Sky anxiously await her return, which could come as soon as Friday, against Atlanta, as the season resumes after a break for the Olympics.
“I don’t know if I’m playing in the next game,” says Prince, who goes by Piph among friends and by @Piphdagreat10 on Twitter. “My focus is on my rehab. I’m not even worrying about the game.”
Back to the court.
Everything Prince wears is black, except for two shocks of yellow: the word Sky on her tank top and the Livestrong bracelet on her wrist. Prince stands on the side of the court chewing gum, tugging on her shorts. She bounces up and down and does leg kicks while her teammates scrimmage. I have to lean in to hear her—close enough to smell her bubble gum.
“I get self-conscious,” she says. “I feel like everyone’s watching me.”
Her physical therapy lasts between two and two-and-a-half hours, every day.
“Is there a best part to rehab?” I ask.
“Being able to walk and run again,” she says. “There’s lots of stuff I took for granted, makes me value it more now. It’s been hard trying to get movement back in my toes, especially my big toe. They were immobile for four weeks.”
Dana “Pokey” Chatman, head coach of the Sky, says the team needs Prince.
“It’s emotional and mental for the other players,” she says. “It helps others for her to be back. She brings a skill-set to the table and takes pressure off Sylvia (Fowles, the team’s center and second-leading scorer, pictured below).”
Fast-forward to Aug. 14, three days before this Friday’s game against Atlanta. Prince is just as thoughtful in our interview as she was two weeks ago, but today her responses to my questions are longer. She has more to say.
She’s coming back.
Her website has an image of the New York City skyline. Under that is her name, all in capital letters. Under her name are lyrics to Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind: “And since I made it here, I can make it anywhere…” The song plays in the background.
She made it in Brooklyn. She made it at Rutgers. She was making it in the WNBA until she got hurt. Now she starts again.
“I’m planning to play on Friday,” she says. “I feel good. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in. My foot feels good. I’m excited for Atlanta.”
She says the eight weeks of inactivity have given her a new respect for the game, and for the opportunity it’s presented her.
As Prince prepares to return, the Sky have fallen to 8-9, with 17 games left to play. The WNBA’s long break for the Olympics gave Prince more time recover.
“We’re a much better team with her on the floor,” says center Ruth Riley of Prince. “I think that while she was out, we learned a lot about ourselves and what we need to get better as a team without her, not expecting her to take over games.”
With half a season to go, I ask Prince if there’s still time for the team to make the playoffs.
This time I don’t have to lean in to hear her.
“Yeah,” she snaps. “We just want to win.”
CORRECTION: When first published, this report incorrectly labeled Prince as a point guard.
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RHIANNON FALZONE, a life-long Sox fan, is a freelance writer in Chicago. She’s pursuing a master’s in writing and publishing at DePaul University. You can find her blog at chicagogirlmoveson.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @rhiannonfalzone.
STORY ART: Photos of Epiphanny Prince courtesy Keith Allison/cc; photo of Sylvia Fowles courtesy Ashlee Rezin.