BERKELEY, Calif - If she had something to prove, as Sammy Prahalis believed she did, it has been proven. At 5-7, she looks up to most of the women in college basketball. Then again, with her first season now over, nobody symbolically looks down on Sammy.
"It doesn't affect me that much,'' Prahalis - the former Commack star who now plays point guard for Ohio State - said of her size. "I go out to play. But I guess, because I am the smallest, I had something to prove because everyone else is so big.''
Now she'll have to wait until next year to keep proving it. Prahalis' freshman season ended at 1:20 a.m. EDT Sunday when Ohio State lost to second-seeded Stanford, 84-66, in the NCAA Tournament Berkeley Regional semifinals. Prahalis, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had 19 points against the Cardinal after scoring a career-high 23 points to go with seven assists in a first-round win over Sacred Heart.
Prahalis, a two-time Long Island Player of the Year and second-team Parade All-American, averaged 30.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game as a senior for Commack and finished with 2,373 points, second in Suffolk history. She doesn't score nearly as much for Ohio State, but she has become the quintessential point guard, making all the pieces fit for the Buckeyes.
"Three times I've been in similar situations where freshmen were given the ball," said Jim Foster, who became the Buckeyes' coach in 2003 after long stints at Vanderbilt and St. Joseph's. "In all three situations, it was a byproduct of their intensity and how hard they played.
"Samantha is an absolutely terrific athlete that people enjoy watching play. She plays the same way at practice as she does in games. There is no saving herself . . . Size is just one aspect of basketball. I think Samantha [may be] the smallest player on the court, but I think people will enjoy watching her.''
Foster enjoys utilizing Prahalis' multiple skills. She led the Big Ten in assists with 5.79 per game and was first in assist-turnover ratio, seventh in steals and 23rd in scoring at 10.0 points per game.
"I definitely like fast-paced basketball,'' Prahalis said, and no one who has seen her would ever argue with that. Her New York accent has been quite noticeable in Ohio, too. "Yes,'' she said with a smile, "they kid me about it.''
Nobody chides Prahalis about her style: aggressive and determined. College ball has been rewarding, especially since Ohio State won the Big Ten championship.
"High intensity and a lot of fun,'' Prahalis said of conference play, which culminated in a 67-66 win over Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament final March 8. "But that's what basketball has always been for me. Coming from Commack, it has been a bit of a change, but not too much.''
Prahalis has an attitude, a requisite for anyone who's in command. "You have to play with one,'' she agreed when told that Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she is "cocky, in a good way.''
"You have to play with a winning attitude," Prahalis said. "If we play with passion and confidence, we will be just as good as any team.''
Prahalis went up against Stanford freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike Saturday night. She was Prahalis' roommate last summer on the U.S. team that went 5-0 at the FIBA Championships in Argentina.
"I haven't talked to my teammates about her,'' Prahalis had said of the 6-2 Ogwumike, who had 15 points against Ohio State - 10 fewer than teammate Jayne Appel. "She is a really good player. She is long and can run and very versatile.''
For Prahalis, two out of three ain't bad. She can run and is incredibly versatile. She ranked in virtually every team statistical category except rebounds.
"It's always been in my head, 'Work hard,' '' Prahalis said. "If you work out every day, it will all come out in the end.''
And now her freshman season has ended. But it's only the beginning of what appears to be an outstanding college career.
"This is something I've been waiting for my entire life - to play in the NCAAs,'' Prahalis had said before her first tournament game.
When you're not even 20, an entire life doesn't consist of all that much - but in her case, it's a tease on how great she eventually can be.