Alone in a gym is a place that a basketball player finds himself quite a bit. Shoot, get the ball, shoot again. Repeat a few hundred times. It is a time honored tradition with the best players, and those that are lovingly called gym rats. Shoot. Retrieve. Shoot. It is the only way a shooter becomes a shooter. The only way a player can improve from making just 2 three-pointers (out of 6) in your first year as a collegiate to being one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big 12 in your third season.
Taurean Prince came to Baylor as an undersized power forward, or an unskilled small forward depending on your view. Not ranked by Scout in the class of 2012, Taurean Waller-Prince originally signed with Long Island University out of high school over offers from Creighton and Colorado State. However, a coaching change gave Prince a chance to take another look at his options after a big senior season.
Prince averaged 21.4 points per game in his senior year at Earl Warren High School in San Antonio, Texas to go along with 11.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. “When I got my letter of intent back, Baylor was the first one to call, but Nebraska called while I was here and I signed with Baylor that day.” With the chance to see what else was out there, the Bears jumped on the opportunity to get a sleeper recruit.
"Taurean is someone that not only could he score, but he had athleticism. He could rebound and you knew that his best days were ahead of him. Some people they have maxed out or tapped out their ability by the time they graduate, from high school were close to their ceiling. He was someone we thought had a lot of room to grow," said Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew.
The ability to score down low and in the mid-range was evident from his start with the Bears. "One thing he always had a knack for scoring, and as a coach it is really hard to teach someone how to score. It is easier to teach them how to get in stance and play defense," said Coach Drew.
With 24 appearances in a reserve role in 2012 during his Freshman campaign, Prince did not have a big impact on the box score most nights, but you could tell the attitude and impact he could bring to the team, especially on offense. An aggressive scorer, who is not afraid to come off of the bench and start shooting right away, Prince took 26.7% of all of the shots when he was on the court. That was the second highest rate on the team (behind Pierre Jackson's 27.6% in over 1,000 more minutes) and a sign to come.
|Taurean and his Gunner Role|
|% Of Possessions||25.7%||25.6%||26.3%|
|% of Shots||26.7%||23.7%||30.0%|
|*Rates from Kenpom.com|
Prince was an effective bench weapon that first year, scoring in double figures in 3 games, and scoring a team best 22.9 points per 40-minutes. He shot an incredible 61.1% on 2-point field goals, mainly due to his ability to get to the rim against smaller competition. Behind Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, Prince got some time in the post, but also played minutes at the small forward position, where the Bears were not as strong after the early departure of Quincy Miller to the NBA.
His sophomore year though would put him on the wing much more often. With Austin and Jefferson both making the decision to return to the Bears for another year, and Ricardo Gathers developing into a tremendous third post, playing time down low was scarce in his second year on campus. Prince would get less than 1/3rd of his playing time at the power forward position, with the majority of his minutes coming out at the wing, backing up Royce O'Neale.
The larger role would also give him more playing time, up to over 14 minutes per game. With the larger role, Prince was looked at more often as that scoring threat off the bench. He would break the 10-point barrier nine times, and average 6 points and 3 rebounds per game. However, Prince would start to show the ability to stretch the court and hit 3-pointers with some regularity. He shot 36.6% from behind the arc, making 15 three-pointers on the year.
The bench role suited Prince well. "It doesn’t bother me at all. It benefits both of us. They are less focused on me at the beginning of the games. I can slip right in there and try to make an impact from the get-go." With his junior year on the horizon and a much larger role for Scott Drew and the Bears ahead of him, Prince had work to do. With Cory Jefferson off to the NBA, and Isaiah Austin to a graduate assistant role after the projected first-round pick had his career cut short by a Marfan's Syndrome Diagnosis.
However, it was those NBA players and past Bears that helped show Prince the path to his goals. "Past players, Corey Jefferson, Pierre and all of the old guys that have come back and given me advice like Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, Isaiah. Just seeing those guys working and having a chance to go to the NBA and being in the NBA just inspired me and made me want to be the next one."
With improvement in his ball handling, ability to get to the rim, and passing needed, Prince worked with Isaiah Austin. Protecting the ball, getting their in two dribbles and with efficiency and making sure he could laterally shift better were the keys this offseason. Getting stronger was also a key, as Prince would move more into a post role with Rico Gathers the only proven big-man for the Bears.
"I am just here to try to do the best things that I can do personally to make the team better and give us a chance to win." Be it in the post, on the wing, off the bench of in the starting lineup, Prince fills the role given to him and provides much more than just scoring now. Make no mistake, the Bears leading scorer is still one of their best offensive options. He is averaging 14 points per game, shooting 52.1% from inside the arc and 40.7% from 3-point range. He is also fourth on the team in assists, averaging 1.3 per game.
With his improvement on the offensive side of the court showing in the box score, it is his work defensively that has taken the largest step forward. In his first two seasons at Baylor, Prince combined to have 9 blocks and 29 steals. This year, he has smashed those numbers with 28 blocks and 43 steals. His steal and block rates are significantly higher than they were last year.
|How Has Taurean Prince Improved?|
|Minutes Per Game||14.3||26.3|
|Points Per Game||6.2||14.0|
|Rebounds Per Game||2.8||5.5|
|Assists Per Game||0.6||1.3|
|Blocks Per Game||0.2||0.9|
|Steals Per Game||0.5||1.4|
|3-Point Field Goal %||36.6%||40.7%|
|True Shooting %||54.9%||57.2%|
|Fouls Committed/40 minutes*||5.8||3.0|
|*Rates from Kenpom.com|
Prince has also improved his consistency on the glass, as he ranks third on the team in rebounds with over 5.5 per game. His turnovers have also decreased, down from committing a turnover on 24.2% of his possessions to 17.6%. His assist rate is up from 9% to 12%. He is a player that has defined his role and matured into it. In fact, he credits his maturity as a prime reason for his improvement.
"Maturity. Most definitely. Just knowing when to be a certain way around certain people. Coming to practice with more of a focus, not just because I have to be here, but because I want to be here. Maturity overall, and with maturity I have gotten a lot better because of that. "
The Bears will once again appear in the NCAA tournament, finding out there seed Sunday evening. They will become the first Baylor team to ever go to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, a very important first for the program. Taurean Prince has been a large part of that, and will be a large part of a possible third consecutive trip next year. Even with a second team All-Big 12 honor, and being chosen the League's Sixth Man of the Year, there is still plenty for Prince to improve on."My back to the basket moves, I can get better at passing and handling the ball. Those three things." Prince has his goals in mind for a big senior season. A season that he might finally become an every game starter for the Bears, a role that will be hard earned. A role that he will surely prepare for just as hard and diligently as every other role he has been given for the Bears.