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Samantha Prahalis is having standout rookie season for Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury's Samantha Prahalis dribbles against the

The Phoenix Mercury's Samantha Prahalis dribbles against the Liberty during a game in Phoenix. (Aug. 23, 2012) Credit: AP

Samantha Prahalis' rookie season with the Phoenix Mercury has brought some difficult challenges. For example, it's not easy to find a good slice of New York pizza in the desert. Nor is it easy to get used to the oppressive summer heat.

"It's 95 degrees and that's at night," the Commack native said with a laugh in a recent phone interview. "It's a little weird."

Of course, getting used to a new area of the country isn't the biggest adjustment that Prahalis had to make since the Mercury made her the No. 6 overall pick out of Ohio State in April's WNBA draft. With early injuries to Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor, the Mercury has won only six of 25 games this season and the rookie point guard has played a much bigger role than expected on what was a star-laden team.

"She's just been thrown into it," Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. "With all the injuries, we lost almost 60 points a game. We've asked her to do a lot of things that she wouldn't have had to do if everyone was healthy. And she's done a great job with it."

Prahalis, who returns to the New York area Wednesday night to play the Liberty in Newark, is averaging 4.5 assists and 12.1 points in 25 games. She is leading all rookies in assists and ranks seventh in the league, a pretty impressive feat considering that Phoenix is the WNBA's worst shooting team.

It is Prahalis' scoring ability, however, that has been the biggest surprise of her rookie season. Prahalis' 12.1 points ranks second among WNBA rookies, trailing only the Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka Ogwumike, who is averaging 13.5.

She's done all that while maintaining the flamboyant style, both on and off the court, that made her a fan favorite at Ohio State and a favorite villain around the rest of the women's college basketball world. Off the court, Prahalis sports an impressive collection of tattoos and dyes her blonde hair black. On the court, her flashy ballhandling skills had women's basketball fans comparing her to Pete Maravich.

Gaines, however, believes a more apt comparison is Steve Nash.

"I believe she's going to be a great player," Gaines said. "She's a lot like Nash. She has the ability to score outside. She has a runner. And she can create her own shot, which is tough nowadays. And of course, she has the ability to pass the ball and make people better."

Doing all this without a star-studded supporting cast hasn't been easy. Before winning their last two games the Mercury had lost 10 in a row. Dealing with losing hasn't been easy for a player who is only used to winning.

"It's been rough for her," said her father, John Prahalis, who will be taking a contingent of 20 family and friends to watch Wednesday night's game against the Liberty. "She's never been on a team that didn't win. I think the only good thing is that everyone realizes that it is because everybody is hurt and the team will get better when they get back."

Prahalis conceded it's been difficult being the focus of some of the league's best defenders.

"In this league, you have to be confident and aggressive every night," she said. "I have to learn that I'm still putting it into my head before every game, because I'm not going up against another rookie. I'm going up against another great player."

Prahalis' load had gotten a little lighter since Taurasi, who missed 18 games because of a strained hip flexor, dental problems and the London Olympics, returned on Aug. 25. Over that period, Taurasi has averaged 19 points a game and the team has gone 2-1.

"It's fun playing with her," Prahalis said. "It wasn't always fun this year because we were losing so much. But I think it's going to be good for me in the long run because you learn a lot. It's good to have obstacles to overcome."

Now, if she could only find a good slice of New York pizza.


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