Prahalis A Bit of A Wild Thing In Phoenix

Wearing No. 99, Phoenix's Samantha Prahalis is anything but your average rookie.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

When choosing a uniform number, Phoenix rookie guard Samantha Prahalis, only the second player in WNBA history to wear No. 99, had a lot to consider.

“It was between 55, because Jason Williams was 55 when he was on the Kings when he was really nice, or it was 99,” Prahalis explained. “So I was like, I’m going to go with 99 because nobody’s got it and I wanted to make it something.”

The desire to remain unique for Prahalis, in donning a number that not many athletes in any sport – save 300-pound defensive tackles – commonly wear, is not the only story behind the number, however.

“The Wild Thing wears 99, too,” said Prahalis, referencing Charlie Sheen’s iconic character Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in the movie Major League. “So I was like, that’s bad---, I should just do that.”

So I was like, I’m going to go with 99 because nobody’s got it and I wanted to make it something.
- Samantha Prahalis
If you haven’t figured it out already, Prahalis is not your average rookie. The Long Island native, equal parts style and substance, plays the game with her own distinct flare that complements her jet black hair, collection of tattoos, and of course, that number on the back of her jersey, which had only previously been wore by one other player, Houston's Hamchetou Maiga-Ba.

Known for her flashy style of play – regularly referred to as the Pete Maravich of the women’s game prior to this year’s draft – Prahalis, the No. 6 overall pick , has lived up to the hype in the Mercury’s first 19 games. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines, however, sees her skills aligning with a different, legendary point guard.

“I would rather put her more towards the Steve (Nash) category now,” Gaines said. “She definitely has the flashy passes so I think that’s where the Maravich part came from, but she really does have more than that. She has the runners, and I know Pistol Pete – I’ve watched some of his games – was very keen on scoring, but I think she really does have a lot of moves more towards a Steve Nash style of play.”

That’s not bad praise coming out of Phoenix.

Throughout the season’s first half, Prahalis is averaging 4.7 assists for the injury-plagued Mercury, three more per game than the next-best rookie, Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes. Her assist total is good for seventh in the WNBA.

Prahalis, who averaged 20.1 points per game coming out of Ohio State, is also putting up 12.4 points, tied for second among rookies, in 31.9 minutes per game. While she’s only connecting on 37.1 percent of her attempts, Gaines is impressed in the variety of ways she can score.

“She has a plethora of shots which usually comes later in your career,” Gaines said. “She has a runner, she has a pull-up three, she can get to the basket, take a hit, for the size she is, and she can pull up. Usually you’re missing either two of those or at least one of those and she has all of them.”

But, what will really endear her to Mercury fans is the exciting brand of basketball she plays. The 5-foot-7 guard is a highlight waiting to happen and she plays with outward intensity. In fact, one of her tattoos is on the outside of her right index finger and it reads, “Shhh,” so that when she holds her finger up to her mouth in a silence-the-crowd moment, the gesture carries a little more bite. Prahalis has not shushed any opposing crowds yet in the WNBA – she’s saving it for a playoff game she says – but if you ask her, the show is just beginning in Phoenix.

“I also think the best is yet to come because we do have some girls that are hurt that, you know, I would have a little leeway to make a behind-the-back pass or make a crazy pass because I know they’ll catch it regardless,” envisioned Prahalis.

Part of her success is that Gaines has let Prahalis be, well, Prahalis. Gaines tells his rookie guard to “be yourself,” fully aware that that means playing with unfiltered emotion and some New York-style, street-ball showmanship. It's what she affectionately calls her "swag".

“You can’t change people,” Gaines said when asked about Prahalis’ demeanor. “You can kind of control it a little bit, but you really want them to be who they are. You can’t stop them from doing that. It’s in their DNA, it’s what they are. It’s just one of those things where you just have to try to focus it in and make it the best it can be and then from there you have to live with it. It’s a positive thing for her. You want a player like that. You don’t want a player that just doesn’t care.”

“You can’t change people. You can kind of control it a little bit, but you really want them to be who they are.
- Corey Gaines
Another player that fits that mold is Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who missed all but two games in the season’s first half. The five-time All-Star, fiery in her own right, should form an explosive tandem in the backcourt with Prahalis once she returns to the team after the Olympics.

“We get along. I think our personalities really match,” Prahalis said of her and Taurasi. “She is Italian and everything and we always joke about that. She’s cool, we kind of have the same attitude in a way.”

What do the Italians joke about? The menu, of course.

“We always joke like, people on the team think they’re eating good Italian food, and we’ll just always be like, ‘you’re killing me, this is not real,’” Prahalis said with a laugh.

And while you can’t exactly find New York pizza in Phoenix – despite every pizzeria's best claims – Prahalis actually has been as good as advertised making the jump to pro ball. She’s been thrust into a prominent role as a result of injuries to both Taurasi and Penny Taylor (out for the season) among others, and Phoenix (4-15) will need its Wild Thing to fuel its up-tempo offense if it hopes to close the season in the playoff hunt.

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