Samantha Prahalis' style fits Mercury
If you want scoring ability and highlight-reel passes, Samantha Prahalis can give you that.
If you want conformity, look elsewhere. That's something she isn't interested in providing.
Prahalis, a 5-foot-7, up-tempo point guard who was selected No. 6 overall by the Phoenix Mercury in Monday's WNBA draft, isn't sure why she was so heavily scrutinized in her four years at Ohio State. But she has her suspicions.
"I just feel like women's college basketball is all about the girl next door, where like, I'm going to go home and knit a blanket and then bake cookies with [my] mom," Prahalis said. "I'm not like that. I'm just not like that. ... I just feel like I was misunderstood a bit."
Maybe it's the hair -- Prahalis, a natural blonde, dyes it jet black. Or maybe it's the tattoos -- she has more than 10 now, including visible designs on both wrists, her right forearm and right index finger. Or maybe it's the personality, which Prahalis admitted can be "fiery."
"I'm not like some bad-ass kid, but I'm a little edgy," Prahalis said in her distinctive New York accent. "... It's not like I'm trying to be different, that's just how I am. I'm a little bit unique. I'm just being myself and I just felt like myself didn't exactly fit the mold of a typical women's college basketball player, for whatever reason, I don't know."
Prahalis was suspended three games by the NCAA at the start of her junior season for a secondary rules violation. That didn't help things. Prahalis, who is as soft-spoken off the court as she is dynamic on it, admitted to feeling "trapped" toward the end of her college career.
"Honestly, I don't think people ever accepted me for who I was," Prahalis said. "I'm just not that typical girl next door, and I think a lot of people saw me on the court and misunderstood me. I was emotional, I was fiery. At times a little too emotional, too fiery."
The WNBA came calling at the right time.
Prahalis, whose no-look passes have garnered thousands of YouTube views, enters an ideal run-and-score Mercury offense that includes established WNBA standouts Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree. Prahalis couldn't hide a smile at the thought of leading that fast break.
"It's crazy, right?" she said after a few giggles.
Prahalis, if memory serves her correctly, first picked up a basketball in the first grade. And while she excelled at soccer and softball through middle school, basketball became her sole focus at Commack High in Commack, N.Y., a community of roughly 36,000 in Suffolk County on Long Island. Prahalis also went on to play AAU basketball for storied New York City-based Exodus and coach Apache Paschall, who died in January of skin cancer. Prahalis has the word "Exodus" tattooed on her right wrist in memory of Paschall and her close-knit group of teammates.
Prahalis was always a naturally gifted athlete, according to her parents. But if given the choice between a goal in soccer and a no-look pass in basketball, Prahalis has always taken the dime.
"A lot of people say they like when their teammates score, but they don't really mean that," said Prahalis, the Big Ten's all-time leader in assists. "I actually like and get hyped off that stuff, especially if it was a no-look pass or a crazy pass, I get hyped off that."
In a draft where the only lock seemed to be Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike going No. 1 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks, Prahalis and her family said they were prepared for anything.
"People had said different things," Prahalis' father, John said. "Seattle was going to take her and trade her. Minnesota might take her for a backup point guard. Tulsa [was possible]. We just heard so many things. I really had no idea. It made it exciting and nervous."
Prahalis was joined by her father, mother Kim, younger sister Mallory, best friend Kate, and agent Monday. The unanimous feeling among the group was that Prahalis landed in the perfect situation.
"They play an up-tempo style and that's her style," Kim said. "She loves to run."
Prahalis, a lifelong East Coaster, has never been to Phoenix and has only been to the West Coast a handful of times. But she isn't worried about adapting or fitting in. She has felt misunderstood for years, after all.
So when Mercury training camp opens on April 24, the team will see the real Prahalis -- hair dyed black, tattoos proudly displayed and an innate ability to distribute the basketball.
"There were times I thought, 'Should I conform?'" Prahalis said. "But that's just not me. I don't mean to bug anyone, but that's just not me."