Prince leaves Rutgers to play overseas

NEW YORK -- Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince is skipping her senior season to play professionally in Europe.

Prince said she has not signed with an agent or chosen a team. She plans to enter the 2010 WNBA draft.

"I just wanted to start my pro career," Prince told The Associated Press by phone. "I feel it was the right move for me and my family. I've always dreamed of playing in the WNBA."

Prince averaged more than 19 points last season as a junior and was a third team All-American. She guided Rutgers to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season. She said she feels bad about leaving her teammates.

"I love those girls a lot," the 21-year-old guard said. "We went through a lot together. It's my time and the right team to start something new."

Prince plans to interview agents next week and work out this summer before getting ready for next season's European leagues. She plans to take summer school courses and hopes to graduate from Rutgers on time.

Candace Parker left Tennessee with a year of eligibility remaining, but she already had graduated when she was the top pick in the WNBA draft in 2008. Men's basketball players have been leaving early for the NBA for decades.

The WNBA has a much stricter code of eligibility for players than the NBA. To play in the WNBA, a player must turn 22 during the year they are drafted, graduate from college or see their class matriculate during the three-month period following the draft. Or the player must be out of high school for four years.

"Through our collective bargaining agreement, there are a number of routes by which a player can enter the WNBA and we are supportive of any player who meets the requirements," WNBA president Donna Orender said. "In the case of Epiphanny Prince, she will have a good opportunity to hone her skills against professional players. And she will still be able to enter the WNBA Draft in 2010, something she would have been eligible to do regardless of her decision to forgo her senior season."

Prince isn't the first woman to leave school early to play in Europe. Schuye LaRue left Virginia after her sophomore year in 2001 to go play abroad before getting drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003.

Prince's decision was first reported by The New York Times on its Web site.

Prince jumped into the national spotlight when she was a senior in high school and scored a record 113 points in a game. She helped Rutgers advance to the national championship game as a freshman before the Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee.

"Epiphanny is a phenomenal basketball player and an even more special young woman," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "I thank Piph for her contributions to Rutgers women's basketball over the past three years and wish her the best in the future as she pursues a career in basketball."

Prince said it was emotional telling Stringer of her decision.

If Prince had returned for her senior season, she could have been covered under a program that allows exceptional NCAA athletes to purchase insurance to protect themselves in the event of catastrophic injury or illness during their college career.

A women's basketball player can get up to $250,000 in coverage. It's likely Prince would earn more than that playing abroad as many American players have earned six-figure salaries in Europe.