Best Foot Forward The skinny on Detroit's Tayshaun Prince: He saves his A-game for when it matters most

May 09, 2004

After relinquishing home court advantage in Game 2 of the first
round, the Detroit Pistons were trailing the Milwaukee Bucks
41-31 in Game 3. That's when spindly Tayshaun Prince took flight,
blocking a fast break layup by 6'11" Toni Kukoc. Over the next 94
seconds, the small forward added a steal and scored all seven of
the Pistons' points, sparking them to a pivotal 91-77 win and an
eventual 4-1 series victory. Said coach Larry Brown, one of
Prince's tougher critics, "I gave him two hugs tonight."

Detroit will need to squeeze even more out of Prince in this
round if it hopes not to get ravaged by his matchup with Richard
Jefferson. In four regular-season games Jefferson outscored
Prince by an average of 21.5 to 5.3 points, outshot him 42.9% to
25.0% and outrebounded him 7.0 to 4.3. "I think in their locker
room they're saying, 'Tayshaun cannot guard Richard
Jefferson--let's attack him,'" said Detroit vice president of
basketball operations John Hammond before the series. "I'm sure
they feel they have the edge at that position."

The Pistons think Prince, who flourishes in the postseason, will
rise to the challenge. After averaging 10.3 points and 4.8
rebounds during the regular season, Prince jumped to 17.4 and
7.6, respectively, in the first round. Given his breakthrough
performance against the Philadelphia 76ers as a rookie in last
year's Eastern semifinals, he is quickly establishing himself as
one of those players who save their best for the biggest moments.
With his quickness and 7'2" wingspan, Prince believes he can
neutralize the explosive Jefferson. "I have to take it as a
personal challenge to step up my defense and not let him get out
on the break," says Prince, who notes that in his four years at
Kentucky he raised his level of play during the NCAA tournament.

Prince's mental state will be crucial. Brown spent the first half
of the season screaming at him to be more assertive. The turning
point came in February when Prince was benched for lack of
energy. He responded not only by shouting back at Brown during
their ensuing practice squabbles but also by overcoming his quiet
personality and taking more command--something that doesn't come
naturally to the 24-year-old Prince. "He's so even-keeled," says
point guard Chauncey Billups, "he's under the keel."

In Game 5 against the Bucks, Prince accentuated a stellar
performance (24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) with an
angry outburst at the refs that shocked--and delighted--his
teammates. His rugged play also helped soften criticism of the
Pistons' decision to use the No. 2 pick in last year's draft on
bench-riding Serbian big man Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo
Anthony. Though Anthony would have displaced Prince in the
starting lineup, Detroit's balanced attack could not have
comfortably afforded Carmelo the 17.9 shots he averaged for the
Nuggets this year. Says Hammond, "We still feel like we did the
right thing." --Ian Thomsen

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)