Lauren Hansen, one of the consensus top girls basketball players on Long Island, briefly had considered transferring. She said she didn’t have specific programs in mind but was intrigued by the thought of playing for a powerhouse private school.
That notion was quickly abandoned when Ward Melville named Samantha Prahalis its girls basketball coach.
Prahalis, who was in the WNBA for parts of three seasons and also played in Europe after starring at Commack (2002-08) and Ohio State, brings a youthful exuberance to a team playing in one of the toughest leagues on Long Island.
“She’s done everything that I aspire to do,” said Hansen, a junior guard who already is one of the county’s best players, having averaged 22.7 points per game last season. “I thought it would be great to learn a lot from her and her experiences and all she brings to the game.”
Prahalis runs her practices the way she ran the court during her playing days, with an intensity unmatched by anyone else in the building. The practice is fast-paced — just like her style of play — and offers players little time for breaks. After all, she never took much time off.
Watching over drills, Prahalis, 27, is quick to jump in and point out something she doesn’t like. If she has any say in the matter, the Patriots won’t be lazy when it comes to setting screens and making passes. They’ll play with the same intensity that she did.
Prahalis also makes concerted efforts to sprinkle fun into every practice to build chemistry and lighten the mood. The drills are fast and make the players work hard, but they’re focused around fun objectives. “I’m so hard on them in some of the drills, and I’m so specific and so demanding that I like to have fun,” Prahalis said. “It has to be both. I can’t be hard on them 24/7. At the end of the day, I really love these kids. They’re awesome. I just want to coach them hard and get them better.”
The players gravitate toward the first-year coach, who got the job in mid-August after ending her playing career. It’s her personality and obvious basketball savvy that brings them in, but it’s her impressive resume that keeps them enthralled.
“How many people are you going to run into when you’re a high school kid that has that kind of background? She’s been there, she’s gone through the fire,” said Commack coach Denis Conroy, who was the coach during most of Prahalis’ six seasons on varsity. “You have a person who, on the face of it, has immediate credibility.”
Prahalis earned Newsday All-Long Island honors as a sophomore, junior and senior and was named to the second team as a freshman. The flashy, multi-talented guard scored 2,372 points for Commack, the fifth-best total for a Long Island girls basketball player, according to Newsday records.
She went on to average 15.1 points and 6.8 assists per game in four years at Ohio State and graduated as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in assists (901). That, of course, is trumped by the fact that she was the No. 6 selection by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2012 WNBA Draft.
But Prahalis said she refrains from talking too much about herself.
“What I’ve done is kind of in the past for me,” she said. “It’s cool what I did, but I don’t really think about it too much. I try to stay away from anything about myself.”
The future could hold more coaching opportunities, and while she said she isn’t currently thinking about climbing the ranks, she wouldn’t be opposed to it down the line. Right now, she’s laser-focused on a Ward Melville team that graduated four starters but returns Hansen, an All-Long Island selection last season.
Prahalis has made extra efforts to coach Hansen, who said she’s receiving major Division I interest from a variety of schools, most notably Texas, Maryland, Washington, Syracuse and Ohio State, Prahalis’ alma mater.
“When I got the job, that was the first time seeing her play,” Prahalis said. “I was impressed. She’s a special talent. I haven’t seen her skill set since I left high school. That’s been quite a many years.”
She played during a golden age of girls basketball on Long Island, a time when players such as Bria Hartley, now a member of the Liberty, were dominating every night. So for her to say that about Hansen means she sees something in the 5-7 guard.
Unsurprisingly, Hansen has completely bought in. She said she used to watch video of Prahalis growing up, and now with the ability to learn in a hands-on setting, she’s taking it all in.
“Every day she pushes me to a new level, so I’m learning a lot of stuff every single day,” Hansen said.
That’s Prahalis’ goal in her first season. Beyond the wins and losses, she’s focused on improvement.
“I just want the girls to trust me,” she said. “I want to be there for the girls; I want to have their backs completely. I’m not looking to coach Ward Melville because I want some buzz. I genuinely want to get these girls better.”
What I’ve done is kind of in the past for me. It’s cool what I did, but I don’t really think about it too much. I try to stay away from anything about myself.” — SAMMY PRAHALIS