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Prince Visits His High School Roots

Dominguez graduate won four Southern Section titles and two state titles with Dons.

June 08, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

In a city awash in Laker purple and gold, anyone wearing a Detroit Piston uniform shouldn't expect warm treatment during these NBA Finals.

But Tayshaun Prince, a second-year forward with the Eastern Conference champions, heard only approving shrieks and hollers when he walked into the campus gym at Compton Dominguez on Monday.

Prince, 24, is a Piston -- he played a pivotal role in Detroit's 87-75 win over the Lakers in Game 1 -- but he remains a Dominguez Don in spirit. From 1995 to '98, his teams won four Southern Section championships and two state championships. He was one of the players who, in the words of Coach Russell Otis, "got it started," the "it" being a run of six state titles in the last nine years.

Dressed in a white T-shirt, black sweat pants and a black baseball cap worn backward, 6-foot-9 Prince grabbed a microphone and spent 15 minutes chatting with several groups of students who were not yet taking their final exams.

He reminded them to stay focused on their exams, said how good it was to return to the campus for the first time since his rookie season and, knowing most of those listening were Laker fans, hoped there were a few Piston fans.

One student brazenly but playfully asked whether Prince would play him one on one. Prince replied, "I'll spot you five points and we'll play to six," but then pulled up his left pant leg to show the hamstring he stretched Sunday night. "I have to save my legs for the games."

Prince spent part of the day visiting classrooms, hugging former teachers, and posing for photos with anyone who asked. He brought trading cards and other NBA material to give away.

"It's important to stay connected to the [Compton] community," Prince said. "I grew up here. This being my hometown, just coming back feels good. You have to do those things. I feel I have to do those things. There were a lot of people who gave me support, even after I left for college."

One of those supporters was Otis.

"We had a relationship before I came here to play," Prince said. "My brother played here. My sister went to school here. Once I got here, he was like a father figure, working with me for four years to make my game better.

"He's going to bring out the best out of you."

Administrators were as approving as the students. Here was someone who did it the right way: a star athlete, yes, but one who went on to college -- he graduated from Kentucky with a sociology degree in 2002 -- who is thriving as a pro basketball player but who wants to stay connected to his hometown.

"He was the kind of kid who never wanted to be the star or center of attention," said Phyllis Johnson, a counselor at Dominguez. "He was just a well-mannered, low-key kid who was an athlete.

"I don't have a problem with a kid who can jump from high school to the NBA. But with Tayshaun, the kids here can see there is hope. That you can earn a diploma from Dominguez High, go to a four-year college, and still go to the NBA."

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