Her Own Style
Jan. 30, 2011
By Larry Watts
The list of don'ts is a very short one. Do not tug on Superman's cape. Do not pull the mask off the Lone Ranger. And don't spit into the wind.
In the world of Big Ten women's basketball, add one more don't to the list. Don't light a fire anywhere close to Samantha Prahalis because this 5-foot-6 raven-haired Ohio State guard has a short fuse and can explode at any second.
Prahalis can talk with the very best and she has plenty of game to back it up. She's capable of breaking down a defense and then hitting an open teammate with a no-look pass. She can stop on a dime and hit a three-pointer. And she is capable of taking on the tall timber and leaving them in her tracks with a reverse layup.
Prahalis has all the right ingredients to be the sparkplug in the Buckeye attack. Bred in New York, the 2008 McDonald's All-American and two-time Long Island Player of the Year joined the Commack High School varsity as a seventh grader and honed her skills while playing in the parks in Harlem and lower Manhattan. Selected as New York's Gatorade Player of the Year after her senior season, she finished her career with 2,372 points, including an average of 30.1 points, 7.9 assists and 7.2 steals in her final season.
"In seventh grade, you are allowed to try out for the high school team as long as you can pass a conditioning test, which is mostly running and a lot of basic stuff," she says. "My mom would pick me up from middle school and take me to practice.
"It was a pretty cool experience to be a seventh grader with all those older girls. My sister (Mallory) was a freshman, so some of the girls already knew me. There may have been one or two girls who had hard feelings, but basically everyone was pretty cool and it wasn't a tough transition."
And if she didn't get enough experience in the gym, Prahalis took her game to the streets. She was fearless when it came to playing in some of the top outdoor courts and tournaments.
"I played mainly in organized events, the kind you see in movies with guys calling the games on microphones," she says. "I wanted to make the most out of my experience. I would face ex-WNBA players and ladies who have been through college. Some of them even had their kids at the games. They may have been older, but they were pretty tough."
"If there was a game, she would be there," says Buckeyes head coach Jim Foster, who started tracking Prahalis as a sophomore. "I spent the summer between her junior and senior years following her. Everywhere she went I was there. I've had some good point guards who were very sound and I knew she had a chance to become a great player."
Prahalis fine-tuned her skills while playing AAU ball on the international level. In 2007, she helped lead the USA White Team to a 5-0 record and gold medal at the USA Basketball Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, where she ranked first among all participants in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.53), second in assists (23) and fifth in steals (14). On the Women's U18 National Team in 2008, she averaged 6.2 points and 3.4 assists as the USA ruled the FIBA Americas Championships in Buenos Aires, Brazil. Then in 2009, she helped the USA claim the gold medal with an 8-1 record in Thailand. She set a USA record with 34 assists in the tourney and scored 21 points in the win over Spain the championship game.
During her AAU days, one writer dubbed Prahalis "Pistol Pete with a Ponytail."
"I take that as a real compliment because I have watched film of him (former NBA and college great Pete Maravich)," she says. "I was really impressed with some of the fakes and passes he was making. He was able to make complex things in the games look so simple."
"She is evolving and that (Pistol Pete) is becoming more valid," Foster says. "She has always been a good shooter, but her footwork has improved dramatically since her freshman year. As a result, the quality of her shots has improved. She has a good first step and great ball fakes; she's pretty hard to stop from going where she wants to go."
"Going over to other parts of the world has really helped me learn how to adapt to different styles," the Buckeye junior says. "It's a lot different than playing at Ohio State. The foreign players are definitely more physical, especially with their screens. You have to learn to play through fouls because they don't get called. They like to throw their arms out relentlessly and that hurts. I felt like I had whiplash after a few chops to the neck."
"That international experience certainly didn't hurt Samantha," says Foster. "You just throw it into the blender of her experiences and it's a new ingredient that makes a good drink better.
"She's now been a starting point guard for 71 college games and it really shows with her consistency on a daily basis. She has high energy and is very, very competitive."
Starting all 35 games, she was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year after scoring 10.2 points (tops among all rookies) and handing out 5.8 assists per game. Last year, she was a first-team All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America choice after finishing second nationally with 8.0 assists and third in the Big Ten with 18.2 points per game. She collected nine double-doubles during her second season while burning Michigan State for 32 points, Wisconsin for 29 and Penn State for 26, including a career-high five three-pointers. And for good measure, she nailed 81 percent of her free throws, hitting a school-record 48 straight at one point.
As feisty as Prahalis appears on the court, she claims she is just as introverted off the court.
"Basketball brings out my intensity because I like the game so much," she says. "The basketball court is my canvass and I can paint the picture I want."
However, she does admit she has a habit of getting under the skin of some opponents. She claims it's a result of her Italian, Greek and Irish background overpowering the Swedish side of her culture.
"I'm a mutt," she says with a laugh. "Sometimes I get a little too much into the game. My emotions start building up and that's when my alter ego takes over.
"Sometimes I don't even know where it comes from. I don't mean to do it and I certainly don't want it to get to the point where my opponent wants to beat me up or come after me while I'm sleeping, but after all, it's just a game.
"I don't like losing my cool," she adds. "I haven't done anything crazy yet, and I don't plan to, but it's not fair to everyone when I lose focus of what we are trying to do. I used to be a real head case, but I think I'm maturing now."
"There's a big difference between an 18-year-old freshman and a 20-year-old junior," Foster says. "Samantha is getting more comfortable now and I'm seeing more disciplined play from her on a day-to-day basis."
Iowa guard Kachine Alexander, also an honorable All-America selection last year, will match up against Prahalis at least twice this season and appreciates the Buckeye guard's feistiness.
"She (Prahalis) brings that New York style, a whole different element, to the court," Alexander says. "You always have to keep your hands up when guarding her because you never know when she is going to pass the ball.
"What opponent doesn't get under your skin? I'd have to say I'm just as feisty. Great competitors have that element of edginess that drives you crazy a little bit. It's fun because they are different. There must be a reason why CBS (Jan. 8) and ESPN (Jan. 24) are televising our games this year. They want to see that matchup."
Prahalis recently raised a few eyebrows when she finally picked criminology as her major this year.
"My advisor was really surprised," she said with a laugh. "I doubt I will pursue it as a career. Maybe I can use the experience to be a female detective on one of those TV shows."
Flashing three-inch platform shoes, Prahalis' big interest outside the basketball court is fashion.
"I would really like to develop my own fashion line," she says. "I didn't take fashion at Ohio State because I didn't want to have to deal with all those history of fashion classes. I'm more into drawings and design."
But for now, Prahalis is content with designing a highlight reel of plays while leading the Buckeyes to their seventh straight Big Ten title and a national championship.