Editor's note: Welcome to the second installment of "How Good Was He?" It's an occasional Playbook series in which we delve deep into the athletic pasts of celebrities.
2 Chainz has already lived multiple lives in the music industry, from his origins in the duo Playaz Circle to a stint with Ludacris' Disturbing tha Peace crew under the name "Tity Boi" to his current status as one of the hottest rappers in the game. His solo debut, "Based on a T.R.U. Story," topped the Billboard 200 when it was released last month.
But before all of that, 2 Chainz was Tauheed Epps, basketball player. As a 10th-grader, Epps was the star sixth man for North Clayton High in College Park, Ga., which ran the table for the Class AA state title after a 10-10 start in 1992-93. By his senior year, the 6-foot-5 Epps was a legitimate Division 1 recruit who got some attention from the University of Memphis, which was then looking for a silky, tall guard to replace Penny Hardaway.
After graduating from North Clayton, Epps would go on to play a full season of Division I ball at Alabama State in 1996-97, seeing time in 24 of 29 games, including losses to Georgetown, Ohio State and a Final Four-bound Minnesota. Averaging just less than 11 minutes per game, Epps' best stat line came in the season finale against Alcorn State, when he put up 14 points and seven rebounds in just 10 minutes. Then, the rap game came calling.
On the day 2 Chainz turns 36 -- wild guess on what he wants for his birthday -- we rounded up some of his former coaches and teammates to remember the basketball prowess of the man who'd go on to rap stardom, and also unearthed an exclusive video of him in action for North Clayton High.
James Gwyn, North Clayton head coach (1986-1995): He was a tough matchup. He was a 6-5, 6-6 perimeter player. He didn’t play inside at all. He could handle the ball very well, pass the ball very well. He was kind of a slippery guy. The little guys couldn’t guard him and the big guys couldn’t stay with him.
Donald Cunningham, North Clayton teammate: He was such a good dribbler -- all the fancy moves and the streetball moves like they’re doing now [in the AND1 videos], he was doing that 17 years ago. Behind the back and the no-look passes, between the legs. Spin it to you -- he’d throw it out and it would come back to you like it was on a yo-yo. We just thought it was so smooth.
Gwyn: He was very deceptive and kind of had a unique style, because all you really saw was arms and legs. He had good ball control but looked a little unorthodox. He was sort of hard to get a hold of. He was like Reggie Lewis from Boston or Reggie Miller – definitely Reggie Miller in terms of the cockiness on the court. I’m just thinking of those guys because they had similar builds. He could shoot the 3, he could go inside. He played with a lot of confidence and could talk some trash.
Cunningham: I’d compare him to someone like Scottie Pippen or Lamar Odom. Versatile, who could play the 1 through the 5. He could definitely handle the ball coming up the court without a problem; you didn’t have to worry about it getting taken or no turnovers. He could be a 2-guard, a real good shooter. He had good size, he was a slasher, he could rebound. He could play a small forward or a power forward, and with his height, he could play the middle. He was already 6-5 in high school. He had good talent, he had a real good jump shot and he was taller, so he could play down low.
Gwyn: His best games? We had a big rivalry against Banneker High, those were games where I thought he really played to the crowd and played well.
Cunningham: Banneker was the biggest game of the season. It was a packed house every time. Standing room only. I remember one game, we were at Banneker, I think he had 29. He hit two 3s back-to-back and helped us come back. It was a real hype game. I think I had 28.
The game at home, it was so big, we had a live announcer, the radio station, extra security. We just had a ball. Tauheed was someone you could depend on. You knew when he took a certain shot, it was going in; just go ahead and count that. You knew when we was down a little bit, you could count on him bringing us back. Everybody else was going to have to do their part, but he was definitely there to bring us back. We played another game against Cedar Grove when Tauheed hit a 2 at the buzzer to take us into overtime. And then he hit another to take us to another overtime, and I said, "Ooohh." We ended up winning that game in three overtimes.
Tom Schuberth, Memphis assistant coach (1992-1997): We had just lost Penny Hardaway and I remember Tauheed was kind of a combination player: a real versatile 2-3 who could maybe play a little point. He was really thin, so that was the one thing that worried us, so we never did offer him. The only thing that scared us was he was so thin.
Rob Spivery, Alabama State head coach (1996-2005): I took over the program in August. I coached him for the year, and he played quite a bit for us. He was a tall, thin kid, very athletic and very good ballhandling skills. He was a very good, skillful player. I always liked big point guards. We had talked about playing him at the point guard position because of his ball skills and his passing and understanding of the game.
Gwyn: He was a little bit of a clown sometimes, but it was never anything negative. I’d say, "You guys can earn the right to cut up a little bit." I probably let them do a little bit of that because they were so coachable and so focused.
Schuberth: He was a really nice young man, and those are the kinds of players we had success with. It wasn’t like we’d go look at any old guy, so he had to be pretty talented for us to go over to Atlanta to look at him.
Spivery: When you come in as a new coach, sometimes the players you inherit have their own ideas in terms of the way things should be done and how they should be used as a player, but I remember Tauheed being somewhat coachable. He would listen and try to do the things we asked him to do. Of course, it takes time to sell a player on the type of player he should be and how he should play within the system.
Cunningham: We played on Team Georgia AAU and ended up playing against Matt Harpring, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Vonteego Cummings. If he stayed with it, he could have played professional somewhere. Definitely. And you know, to this day, he’s still good. He could have at least gotten a tryout in the league. He was that good. Anyone who saw him play would say, "Aw, man, look at that tall, skinny boy. He’s all right."
Spivery: I think if he had concentrated on basketball, and dedicated himself, he could be a pretty good player with his ball skills. He was very skillful and he could shoot the ball pretty decently. He didn’t have the best of shots, but with work and the effort, he could have been a very good basketball player should he have stayed in the system we put together at Alabama State. Where the basketball talent could have taken him after he finished college is a big guess, but he really would have developed into a good player.
Cunningham:The last time I saw him, he was still knocking that J down. We don’t move that fast anymore. But yeah, he’s still knocking that J down.
Spivery: Just last week, my youngest daughter sent me a text asking me if I knew a guy named Tauheed Epps. I responded and said, "Yes, why?" She went on to explain to me who he is in the rapping field – and his new name, 2 Chainz. That was my first time knowing his rap name. I went online to look him up. What I do remember is after he left the program, he came back to Alabama State as a DJ with Ludacris when he was breaking through. I got to see him during his visit during homecoming at Alabama State. It’s good to know he’s stuck with it and he’s making a name for himself. I haven’t heard his music, but I’m sure I will.