In 2018, Sedona Prince was the No. 8 recruit in the nation. Two years later, I met Prince in an English class that we were taking together. With a 6-foot-7 frame that dwarfed our 19th century desks and an abnormally extroverted personality for an 8 am class, she stood out in a class full of half-asleep English majors.
One morning, during a small group discussion, Prince and I struck up a conversation about our tattoos, which she ended by offering, “I actually brought my own tattoo machine to school if you ever want me to give you a tattoo!”
Prince’s offer has stayed with me since. While simple, it felt so rare for a top recruit to talk to a journalism student who was cut from his varsity basketball team. Just two years ago, Prince lay in a hospital in Mexico City wondering if she’d ever play the sport she had dedicated her life to again.
After an injury like that, Prince doesn’t take anything — or anyone — for granted.
Writhing on the floor of Mexico City’s Gimnasio Olímpico Juan de la Barrera, Prince lay screaming in agony only seconds after going up to block a shot. Her screams echoed throughout a hushed stadium, silenced only moments before by the snap of a tibia and fibula.
“I was so scared because I knew I had broken my leg, and it all happened so fast,” Prince says. “Playing in a huge game to then laying on the floor thinking ‘Oh my god, what is going to happen?’ It happened in a millisecond and my whole life was changed.”
Two years later, Prince is preparing to play her first basketball game for the Oregon Ducks. Prince was heavily recruited from a young age and verbally committed to the University of Texas in the eighth grade. Before ever suiting up for the Longhorns, she broke her right leg in that game playing for Team USA in Mexico City the summer before her freshman year of college. Unable to locate an iron rod long enough to stabilize the leg of the tall center, Prince stayed for two days in a Mexico City hospital before flying back to Texas.
What followed was a complicated road to recovery that made Prince not only question if she would ever be able to play basketball again, but if she would ever enjoy the same healthy life as prior to breaking her leg. A bone infection following the initial surgery in Texas led to a second surgery in New York. Dozens of hospital visits later, hospital bills totaled over $22,000; a debt that neither Team USA nor the University of Texas would pay for.
“I played basketball forever, I fell in love with it when I was young. I was the star in high school and then going from that to having this life where there were so many complications and I was put under the spotlight,” Prince says. “I just wanted to be happy. I just wanted to be a kid and be somewhere that I’m happy.”
Soon after announcing that she was transferring from Texas, Prince narrowed her list of potential schools to three. Two of those schools, the University of Connecticut and University of Notre Dame, are home to a combined 13 national championships and two of the winningest coaches of all time in women’s basketball. But Prince chose the third school — a school that had never won a national championship and was located in a town that has twice as many rainy days a year as Austin.
“I just got this overwhelming feeling of family,” she says of Oregon. “I just thought this place was incredible, and knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Prince’s entire demeanor changes as she reminisces about her past year at Oregon. There isn’t a story that’s told without a smile crossing her face, and she can’t seem to use enough superlatives when describing her teammates.
While NCAA women’s basketball rules require transfers to sit one year, Prince submitted an immediate eligibility waiver saying that she felt unsafe at Texas, though she didn’t go into details because of “an ongoing process.” She told The Oregonian in November 2019 that trainers and doctors from the Texas team did not accompany her to appointments as she dealt with a complicated recovery from the broken leg. The waiver was denied.
Unable to play in games, Prince says she wanted to contribute to last year’s team in any way possible — which she often found by pushing her teammates in practice every day. She says some of her favorite times in practice were her battles, which often ended in laughter, against former All-American and now Chicago Sky forward Ruthy Hebard.
“As a coach, coming to practice every day knowing that Ruthy was going to be challenged enough in practice to make her an All-American, which Sedona provided for Ruthy, is invaluable. Very few teams have that opportunity,” says Oregon women’s basketball post coach Jodie Berry. “Ruthy would be the first to tell you that a lot of days, the best competition she ever faced was in practice, against Sedona.”
Returning and incoming players are eager to give some form of redemption for the Ducks, who had their legendary season cut short last year due to COVID-19. Players and coaches have insisted that staying healthy is the main priority for this upcoming season. But the team has a preseason ranking of No. 10 despite being a contender for the title last year. Regardless of what the polls say, the Ducks are ready to prove they’re still the best in the U.S.
“I won’t mince words, I think we expect a lot of her,” says Oregon Head Coach Kelly Graves. “She’s an amazing player and as coaches she’s allowed us to feel a little more at ease knowing that we have one of the best players in the country here.”
Prince breaks the mold of a traditional center with her ability to dribble, pass and shoot from outside. The talent has always been there, Graves says, but the hardships Prince has been through have made her mentally tougher.
Talent isn’t the only thing the Ducks will need from Prince this year as the departure of Oregon legends Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Hebard has left a leadership void. Prince’s time under these leaders paired with her infectious personality, which has helped her go viral on TikTok multiple times, has coaches hoping she can fill the role as one of Oregon’s leaders.
The team does a gratitude journal, Berry says. “And the prompt that our strength coach gave the other day was, ‘What is something that made you smile today?’”
The post coach says every single person put Sedona. “She just has such a fun spirit, and you can’t help but be happy when you’re around her,” Berry says.
Set to begin the season as Oregon’s tallest player since 1990, Prince is tired of talking about her past. The injuries, transfers and pandemic have all brought Prince to where she is today: the happiest and healthiest she’s ever been.
She’s ready to prove that an injury doesn’t define her.
The No. 10 Ducks host the Redhawks on Nov. 30. Oregon will then open its 22-game Pac-12 Conference schedule at home against Colorado (Dec. 4) and Utah (Dec. 6).