The Persistent Prince

The making of a sports journalist

Nick Hetrick

The beard is new, but the smile is the same: easy, natural, like a light flickering on his face. I haven’t seen DeAntae Prince (B.A. ’10, Journalism) since 2010, at a barbeque celebrating the graduating class of Indiana University’s M.F.A. program in creative writing. Although DeAntae was one of the few attendees who wasn’t in the program, he’d become a fixture at these events. Introduced to our cohort by poet Marcus Wicker, it was never a surprise to see DeAntae at a reading or sitting at a booth among my fellow writers at one of our favorite bars. He and I even lived together for several weeks one summer in a townhouse south of Bloomington.

Now, years later and miles away, DeAntae and I chat via FaceTime. He lives in Brooklyn now; I’m in Washington, D.C. Despite how long it’s been, it’s not difficult to talk with him. DeAntae puts people at ease. He patiently considers what you’re saying; he’s never quick to speak.

DeAntae is an NBA producer for SportsIllustrated.com’s The Crossover, where he schedules, assigns, writes, and edits news stories. He also co-hosts a brief show, Give and Go, which explores buzzworthy news in the league. It’s evident DeAntae is a journalist. During our chat, he fact-checks himself via Google to ensure he’s giving me correct dates and name spellings.

But what stands out most about DeAntae’s career is that it allows him to eat and breathe his favorite thing on Earth: basketball.

“I’ve been pretty much all about basketball since I was three years old,” he says.

Prince is an NBA producer for SportsIllustrated.com's The Crossover and also co-hosts a brief show, Give and Go.

DeAntae grew up in Riverdale, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where he played basketball with a rec center league for hours each evening after school. He played throughout high school, too, nurturing dreams of continuing at the college level. As often happens, life made other plans, and while he was accepted to great schools, being a collegiate athlete wasn’t in the cards. He chose IU without even visiting — a walk of faith, he says — and majored in history, planning to attend law school. But he found the amount of reading in history tedious.

“It’s funny for me to say that because now I essentially read for a living,” DeAntae says. “A lot of people don’t get to extend their passion into their profession. It’s great that I went to Indiana, this world-class school that allows you to build your passion.”  

While DeAntae interned with newspapers like The Herald-Times and The Indianapolis Star, he cites IU’s own Indiana Daily Student as the experience that prepared him most for his career.

“The operation there is so professional,” he says. “If you’re going to be a beat writer, you get that experience of being on the road. If you’re going to be an editor, you get to sit in that chair and make those decisions.”

Other courses influenced DeAntae’s craft, including creative writing.

“Someone told me that the newspaper is written at a fourth-grade level,” he says. “So, I think my word usage and my overall writing ability improved with taking lit classes, and creative writing, and reading the great writers.”

DeAntae’s journey from avoiding reading to seeking out “the great writers” demonstrates what happens when education intersects passion. But more than that, it shows DeAntae’s determination to learn, adapt, and persist. Our mutual friend Marcus Wicker recently told me an anecdote that reflects these aspects of DeAntae’s character.

“DeAntae’s father bought him a car that he drove for about two weeks before totaling it by crashing into a deer,” Marcus tells me.

I can sympathize. I, too, had an unfortunate run-in with a deer during my time in Bloomington, although my car was luckier than DeAntae’s.

Marcus continues: “Between class, his editorial responsibilities, and rec league basketball, DeAntae had to be on campus at odd hours when the bus was not running. He always found a way to keep his commitments, whether that meant hitching rides; a long, early walk; or catching a cab. I think that sense of commitment and professional responsibility have a lot to do with his quick rise in journalism.”

While Prince interned with newspapers such as The Herald-Times and The Indianapolis Star, he cites IU's Indiana Daily Student as the experience that prepared him most for his career.

In his career, DeAntae has achieved milestones about which most sports fans can only dream. While working for Sporting News in Charlotte, N.C., he interviewed Michael Jordan. More recently, he interviewed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about sports, the current political climate, and athlete activism.

Surprisingly, current U.S. sociopolitical tensions haven’t affected DeAntae’s work as much as he expected. He attributes this relative calm to differences between the NBA and the NFL, where much of last year’s contention and activism took place, sparked by Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

“The show of unity that the NBA decided to do was lock arms,” DeAntae says, “and the people who would be upset about the NFL taking a knee are less upset about linking arms.”

He also mentions that basketball teams have fewer members than football teams, a factor that may encourage players to interact more meaningfully and limits cliques. Meanwhile, larger football teams may allow players more opportunities to self-segregate and fewer chances for solidarity and understanding.

DeAntae is no stranger to controversial incidents in the sporting world, including at IU. He remembers a 2009 IU men’s basketball game against the University of Maryland. A major player in that game was Jin Soo Choi, Maryland’s center. While Choi, who is of South Korean descent, was at the free-throw line, IU students chanted, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” DeAntae says. “These were students I was in classes with. I feel like there’s this thing where people can make jokes about certain groups without any repercussions.”

But despite unsettling memories like that one, DeAntae persisted in his love for IU.

“I’m going back to Bloomington next Saturday,” he tells me. “And I’m going to watch them play Maryland, coincidentally.”

We talk about his memories, old haunts like Nick’s and Upland Brewery, the beauty of campus, his favorite and least favorite classes. He winces, remembering an 8:00 a.m. anthropology class that led to his worst grade in college.

“I wasn’t smart enough to drop that course,” he says. “I don’t think I ever dropped a class.”

“Maybe you were just persistent,” I say.

“Sure,” he says. “I’ll call it that. I may have been foolish that first time but persistent after that.”

When I ask about other careers he might have pursued in lieu of sports journalism, DeAntae tells me more about his original career plan: law.

“Being a person of color in law enforcement, I could’ve been of good service for people like me and who look like me,” DeAntae says. “Especially with what’s been going on in the last few years, with police shooting unarmed people and not being prosecuted. Maybe in a parallel universe I’m a lawyer who helps bring people to justice.”

He knows people from his hometown who have encountered fractures in the justice system, and he wishes he could do more.

The conversation always returns to people for DeAntae: his family; the award-winning colleagues at Sports Illustrated that he manages and admires; his college friends, now scattered across the country.

"When you're not with people on a daily basis," Prince says, "you take time to sit down and catch up. You invest in people."

“When you’re not with people on a daily basis,” he says, “you take time to sit down and catch up. You invest in people. You take time to listen, and listening is important for my profession.”

Our friend Marcus echoes those sentiments when I ask him what makes DeAntae not only a good journalist, but a good writer.

“He’s genuinely interested in people, a close listener, hardworking, and charming,” Marcus says. “All of these traits come across during his interviews. They’re what make him such a brilliant on-camera personality for Sports Illustrated. And anyone who’s encountered his shoe collection understands what makes him such a dynamite writer: style. Loads and loads of style.”

I have my own realization during my conversation with DeAntae. While I’ve met some exciting milestones as a writer in recent years, ultimately I’ve let my literary aspirations become sidelined by life’s other demands and distractions. I never had the same dedication to my craft that DeAntae has for basketball. I never had the focus and the discipline to make an aspiration a daily reality the way that DeAntae has — and at such a young age. Even when his dreams of playing college ball eluded him, he pivoted and embraced the unexpected gift of journalism to stay immersed in the game he loved. This is an inspiring, humbling realization; it’s a reminder of what’s possible when we put our passions first.

We’ve talked basketball and journalism a great deal, so I ask DeAntae if he does anything else with his time, because in New York, there must be no shortage of things to do.

DeAntae shakes his head and smirks. “There’s a line for everything in New York,” he says simply.

He plays basketball, of course, almost every Saturday.

Chad B. Anderson

Chad B. Anderson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, he earned his B.A. in American studies and English from the University of Virginia and his M.F.A. in creative writing from Indiana University, where he served as fiction editor for Indiana Review. He has been a resident at the Ledig House International Writers' Colony, and his fiction is published in Salamander Review, Black Warrior Review, Nimrod International Journal, and Best American Short Stories 2017. He has also published nonfiction with The Hairsplitter and several articles and reports on higher education. Visit Anderson’s website at chadbanderson.com.