Photo credit. Larry Reed, Jr./East Central CC athletics

By Robert Wilson

       Leake Academy alumnus and East Central Community College freshman guard Miriam Prince is one of the top scorers in Mississippi community colleges and one of the top freshman scorers in the country. 

       But what makes her success this season even more remarkable is where she has come from, both physically and mentally.

       Prince, considered one of the best shooters in Mississippi, led Leake to the MAIS Overall Tournament championship as a sophomore and was named the MAIS Class 5A Player of the Year. And then as a junior, she led Leake to the 5A state title and an Overall runner-up finish. She was looking forward to an outstanding senior year. Prince was on pace to possibly score 3,000 career points and finish in the Top 10 in Mississippi history. But it didn’t happen. It turned out to be one of the most challenging years of her life.

       ”My journey started when I started experiencing shin pain the summer going into my senior year,” Prince said. “I missed a lot of camps and training due to shin splints. We played a summer game against Brookhaven Academy and my motion was awful. I couldn’t defend and I couldn’t explode. That was the day my dad (Philip Prince) said we are going to the doctor. We went to Mississippi Sports Medicine where they told me my tibia was broken. If I had played one more tournament, they said it would have completely snapped. We scheduled surgery for July 14th. I’ll never forget that date. On that day, I had a rod and four screws surgically placed in my leg. Recovery was a nightmare. But I had an army of people praying for me and who served me in some of the darkest most helpless parts of my life. My parents were and still are a dream. They kept me company, encouraged me, and brought me way too much Mexican food. After my surgery, I came back rolling. I was averaging a point a minute.”

       Prince appeared to have made a great comeback. She scored 26 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field and made 5 of 7 from 3-point range in her first game back against Lamar School in early February. But the pain-free feeling for Prince and her normal accurate shooting, ability to move and defend didn’t last. 

       “After my 10th game, I had this unbearable pain in my leg,” Prince said. “I physically couldn’t run any more. I had another surgery to remove the screws from my ankle because the doctors believed my pain was nerve related. However, this was not the case. I missed the reminder of the regular season of my senior year. On a last-minute doctor’s visit, a podiatrist gave me a shot that temporarily blocked the pain, and I was able to play during the playoffs. I was nowhere near 100 percent though. It felt like a sick joke. I had no explosiveness, and my conditioning was average at best.”

Prince – who missed 22 games during the season – had a game-high 19 points despite still not being 100 percent in a loss to Madison-Ridgeland Academy in the Overall semifinals. She finished her brilliant career with 2,468 points, fifth in school history, two points behind her coach at Leake, Amanda Hatch, who starred at Leake from 1995-2000.

       “I hate thinking that people felt sorry for me,” Prince said. “Because as a competitor that’s the last thing you want. For my initial surgery, there was a 14 percent chance that my body would reject the rod. I guess I am just special. So, for my third and final surgery, we had the rod removed. My Uncle Dan (Performance Therapy owner and close family friend Dan Young) is such a blessing during this whole process. He went above and beyond to do anything he could to get me back on the court. My faith has been such a major component of my comeback too. I feel like this whole ordeal really drew me closer to Him. I fully trust His plan because I’ve seen the evidence of His goodness all throughout my life. Coach Hatch did an excellent job preparing me to succeed at the collegiate level. It’s also been such a pleasure to continue playing with my splash sister, Red (Leake alumnus and ECCC freshman Morgan Freeny). A far as this season goes, it’s been such an honor to get back to doing what I love.

       “It’s hard for me to describe Miriam in words,” Young said. “It would almost be easier to describe her with emotions. She played through pain her entire junior and senior years. Everyone knows about her surgery her senior year, but she had been hurting well before then. Miriam never complained. In two years of hardship, I only saw her have three of four days where she was depressed. There were about four different occasions where I said Miriam had turned the corner and was healed and within a day or two she would relapse and have to start back from ground zero. She rehabbed for shin splints and tendinitis for basically two straight years. Nearly everyone else would have given up. Miriam never did. Two surgeries and countless treatments later, she got better. She kept fighting to recover and she’s finally got back to 100 percent in the fall of her freshman year at East Central. It’s such a joy to watch her play at full strength again. Her heart has no limits.”

       “Miriam is a winner on and off the court,” Hatch said. “Her basketball skills, abilities, and accomplishments are truly remarkable, but her incredible character is what defines her. This is evident through the countless hours she spends volunteering to teach younger kids the game of basketball, being the hands and feet of Jesus by serving others in local and international communities, and how she has persevered through many struggles over the last couple of years.”

       “Miriam is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Simpson Academy coach Linda Dear said. “You take away the 3 and she kills you on the drive. I really enjoy watching her play…when she wasn’t playing against us. The thing I like best about her is her personality – always smiling. I love the kid.”

       Philip Prince, Prince’s father, found out about Miriam’s toughness even as a young child.

       “Miriam hit the ground one night in gymnastics,” Philip said. “A thud. Terrible sound. I hoped it wasn’t my kid. It was. She cried. People circled around her and told her she didn’t have to do the routine. Just touch the bar and get a low score and move on. As a dad, I encouraged her. She cried a little more. Got up off the bench and went and executed the routine when 98 percent of the little girls would have gone in the stands and sat that meet out. I knew then she was mentally tough and a warrior.”

       So when Miriam faced adversity with her injury, Philip knew his daughter would overcome this and be back. He was right.

       “Last year, most kids would have gotten on anxiety pills or started drinking,” Philip said. “Miriam turned to the Word. No one wants pain. And no one wants their kids to have pain. It was dark. It was lonely. We lamented and struggled mightily but forget basketball. My little girl turned to the Word. Our only hope. The only thing that lasts. And 98 percent of little girls wouldn’t have hobbled around her senior year. But she left it all on the court. She finished the routine. And she’s a better person for it.”

       Philip Prince – a sharp-shooting, 3-point phenom in his day at Leake (once was Mississippi’s career 3-point leader) – has put in countless hours working with Miriam from when she was little until now. In addition to being a basketball junkie and youth pastor, Prince is the founder of the Church at the Arc, which is a basketball-church ministry in his hometown of Philadelphia.

        Miriam spends a lot of time helping others at the Arc, whether it is serving on the worship team, giving basketball lessons and putting on basketball camps, helping kids with arts and crafts, or leading Bible studies.

Miriam Prince and family

       Prince has excelled on the court this season. She leads East Central in scoring (15.9 points per game), 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage and minutes played and is second in assists and steals and led East Central to a 17-10 record this season, a huge improvement over last season. She is averaging 18.2 points per game since Christmas and has scored 26 points in two of her last three games. East Central – despite losing several players to injuries this season (the Lady Warriors now only dress out seven players) – has won its last three games going into Thursday’s last regular season game at 5:30 p.m. at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville. The Region 23 tournament begins this weekend.

       “Miriam has really elevated the Lady Warrior basketball program to new heights this season,” East Central CC athletic director Paul Nixon said. “She is the type of player who makes everyone around her better because her ability to score the basketball. She attracts the attention of the defense, which opens up scoring opportunities and she does a great job sharing the ball. She’s also an underrated defender because she’s such a great scorer. As good as a player as Miriam is though, she’s an even better person, and she’s made a great impact on ECCC all over campus.”

       “Miriam is a very special talent,” Hinds CC women’s basketball coach Perry Fletcher said. “She has an unbelievable drive, and you can see her passion for the game on the offensive and defensive side of the floor. If you knew her father, “the prince,” she can’t help but be special. Miriam plays with no fear, and she is relentless. She also has the x-factor that will always give her the edge and that’s her commitment to Christ. I’m excited to see Miriam’s future on and off the court.”

       First-year Louisiana-Monroe women’s basketball coach Missy Bilderback – a Mississippi native who was a successful coach in the high school and community college ranks at Presbyterian Christian School and Jones County Junior College – knows the Prince family and the journey of Miriam. She offered Prince a scholarship earlier this season and Prince signed with ULM in December. Bilderback is looking forward to having her coming to Monroe next season and join her up-and-coming program. Bilderback has led ULM to its first winning season in 15 years.

       “We are excited to have MP be a part of our ULM family,” Bilderback said. “She is an awesome person, great talent, and a gym rat. Her love for the game is unique. I am certain she will be able to impact our program and we are thrilled to get to coach her.”

Prince is the oldest of Philip and Valeria’s four kids. The others are also basketball junkies. Samuel, a sophomore at Leake, led his team in scoring this season and was the second-leading scorer in the MAIS. Sarah played on Leake’s varsity as an eighth grader this year. In fact, she hit the winning shot early in the season in a win over defending Overall champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy. And their fourth child, Andrew, affectionally known as Hulk, is a fourth grader with unlimited potential.

Morgan “Red” Freeny and Miriam

The fifth Prince – as Philip likes to say – is Freeny, known as Red at Leake and ECCC.

“Having each other has been huge,” Philip Prince said. “Friendship lasts a lot longer than a game. Faith, hope and love endure. In the midst of haters, doubt, pain, loss, and upheaval you find out who you are and who your friends are. These two re forever bound and are forever warriors. Thankfully, the last two years pressed upon them and made two diamonds.”

“When we (Miriam and Freeny) were seniors, Miriam of course had an injury during a crucial time in our season,” Freeny said. “It greatly affected the team, but we overcame adversity, and Miriam adjusted to a new role on our team. Miriam, who went from leading scorer on our team to our biggest cheerleader, went through many ups and downs with her emotions. She came to me because I have a past with injuries so she knew I could relate. She and I sat and talked for hours and hours, and I would just be there for her to talk to and cry to. That’s one thing many people don’t realize is there is nothing you can say to an injured player to make it better, you just have to be there for them. However, I did try to encourage her as much as I could. If you know Miriam, you know her love language is snacks. My high school team made her a snack basket, which I think helped her spirits tremendously. She overcame it and is now better than I’ve seen her in a long time on and off the court. I think this made her realize how there is more to life than basketball: a lesson many of us have to learn. She embraces her leadership on our East Central team as the leading scorer and is a pleasure to play with. I never knew how much I needed one more year with her until this year. This year has brought Miriam and I closer than anything even though we’ve been extremely close this entire journey.

“I think we all were going through our own hardships with her being out and having to adjust our own game, which was completely different with her not being on the court. But, just in general, you can learn a lot from injured players like perseverance mainly. You also find out their true character and how they handle struggles. Mimi (Prince’s nickname), I would say, did have mental battles as all of us did, but she handled them on a brighter level and came out stronger on the other side.”