The "Shhh . . . " tattoo on the inside of Sammy Prahalis' right index finger speaks volumes.
She chose to ink the word into her flesh after a tense regular-season win at Minnesota in February 2009. The Gophers had pulled to within six with seven minutes left in the game. Then Prahalis stunned the crowd with a three-pointer and a simple gesture.
"I shushed them," she said in a recent phone interview. "The crowd's always rough over there and the three was kind of big. [That tattoo] just fits my personality. I just like to have fun, just be emotional. There's always going to be haters. So that's my way of saying, hate on."
Said Ohio State coach Jim Foster: "She's incredibly competitive. You may sense that, but I don't know if people realize the depth of that. That's what turns really good players into great players historically: that competitive fire."
Soft-spoken but firm, Prahalis lays out her master plan without uncertainty or hesitation. "I woudn't be satisfied with this season if we don't win a national title," she said. "Not at all."
The Buckeyes (30-4), a balanced team with depth, received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament Monday and will face No. 15 St. Francis (Pa.) Sunday in Pittsburgh in the first round of the Dayton Regional. "I think we can go to the last game of the season," she said. " . . . Some people are kind of counting us out, but I think we'll be in good shape to make some noise."
Foster agrees. "When we're shooting the ball well,'' he said, "we can make it interesting."
With the 5-7 sophomore running the offense, Ohio State won its second straight Big Ten championship last week. Prahalis scored 29 points, shooting 7-for-16 from the field (4-for-7 from three-point range), to help lead the Buckeyes to an 82-73 victory over Wisconsin in a tournament semifinal. And though she had only six points in the title game against Iowa, she sparked a 10-0 second-half run that spurred a 66-64 comeback win over the Hawkeyes.
"At Ohio State, you're there to win championships, so anything less than a Big Ten championship," she said before pausing, "is like a failure."
Prahalis, who injected her flashy no-look passes with a precision and excitement rarely seen, was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season after leading the conference in assists (5.8 per game). She also is a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, presented to the nation's top point guard, for the second straight year.
This season, Prahalis (16.5 points, 7.9 assists per game, second in the nation) is second on the team in scoring behind conference player of the year Jantel Lavender (21.4) - but she's not satisfied.
"I need to grow a lot," Prahalis said. "Just little things, like working on my jump shot, being more of a leader. I also want to win a championship. You don't leave your mark on anything if you don't win a championship."
The six-year starter at Commack scored 2,373 points (second in Suffolk history behind Nicole Kaczmarski) and was a two-time Long Island Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American and the Gatorade State Player of the Year as a senior. But she appeared in one county final and never won a title.
For as long as Prahalis can remember, she has been a polarizing figure. Rival fans hated her moxie and the emotional displays she refused to apologize for. Yet young girls often called her their hero, bombarding her with autograph requests. Off the court, though, she resumes her quiet, shy demeanor.
"You can do whatever you want to do on the court," she said. "You can show as much emotion as you want. It's really two different people."