More to Prahalis than Flash

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

Here’s something that may surprise you: Sammy Prahalis, at her core, is a shy, soft-spoken person.

Admittedly, it’s a far cry from the Prahalis we see on the basketball floor. The one with a fiery personality. The one who once garnered a standing ovation while playing at Ohio State…on an opponent’s home court. The one whose desire to win is so extreme, that a loss physically hurts her. The one who played nearly every position on her football team (including linebacker) while growing up near Long Island, New York.

Those characterizations are all aspects of Prahalis, sure, but they certainly don’t define who she is.

On the court, Prahalis has a bit of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing going on. But unlike Dr. Jekyll’s intrinsic Mr. Hyde, Prahalis’s transformational potion is the game of basketball itself.

About six months ago, I had the pleasure of getting to know Prahalis for a now-published article. If I’m honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Obviously, I had long been a fan from afar but based on some of the things written about her (that she was too flashy, too intense, too flamboyant, etc.), I definitely didn’t expect to spend 45 minutes on the phone discussing her passion for life, family, and mentoring kids in New York.

In fact, she was so soft-spoken that I had to ask her several times to speak a little louder. She’d laugh bashfully, apologize, and then continue talking about her commitment to change the women’s game. Changing the women’s game…a lofty goal, no? To clarify, Prahalis wasn’t saying that anything is wrong with the women’s game as it stands today. Rather, she wants to help make women’s basketball synonymous with the excitement erroneously stereotyped as residing only in men’s basketball.

Because of that, it’s easy to pigeonhole Prahalis as a Jason Williams-esque type of basketball player. After all, she loved to watch And-1 tapes growing up and would spend hours and hours trying to emulate their moves. Furthermore, there are times when you can’t help but compare her to Jason Williams, or even Pistol Pete Maravich, after she makes a sick pass in transition.

But Prahalis is so much more than just YouTube fodder. Replicating And-1 moves is one thing, spending days in the gym working on the basic fundamentals of dribbling is another. Making a dazzling pass to teammate is great, but the amount of time she spends studying point guards in both the NBA and WNBA, ultimately, makes those passes possible.

She gets more excited after an assist on the break than she does for scoring 30. She’s routinely labeled as undersized at the point guard position, but her tenacity, vision and determination more than make up for it. Her play-making ability has enormous potential to translate effectively to the WNBA, and especially on this Mercury team. More relevant, however, is that her only goal is to win basketball games. Those qualities, more so than her flash, are why the Phoenix Mercury coveted her -- not only because of her impressive stints at streetball meccas like Rucker Park or West 4th Street Courts in New York growing up, but because of her dedication to the game.

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Prahalis has always been a polarizing figure in women’s basketball. She’d commute from Long Island to the inner city every day while growing up to play against the best competition in New York. She’d sometimes be the youngest and smallest person on the court playing against men and women five to eight years older, and she would hold her own without any problems.

These experiences helped mold her into the player she is today. Or, rather, it enhanced the type of player she already was. Naturally, Prahalis brings “the city” with her wherever she goes, including the basketball court. She does wonder sometimes why her passion can be off-putting. If Prahalis were a guy, would it even be an issue? It’s more of a rhetorical question or thought and she doesn’t spend much time worrying about it.

Why change who she is?

Quite simply, there’s nothing contrived about Prahalis; her enthusiasm for winning shouldn’t be a negative thing. She plays the game with an in-your-face style and her intensity is frequently mistaken for haughtiness (remind you of anyone else on the Mercury, X-Factor?). And while it isn’t always welcomed or appreciated by all, it’s what makes her who she is.

That’s just…Sammy.