Columbus, Ohio, fall 2011. Sammy Prahalis and the No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes beat the No. 20 LSU Lady Tigers 77-68 in their first real test of the season to run their record to 5-0. In the win, Prahalis flirts with a triple-double, scoring 28 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out eight assists. The lone senior on a talented but young Buckeye team, Sammy makes an early statement that OSU will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

After the game, Prahalis does her usual rounds with the media and hurries frantically to her phone.
She begins to type out a text message, not to her parents or her boyfriend, but to one of the three girls from her former AAU team, Exodus, whom she currently mentors. “Hey! How was your game??” she writes current Exodus player Brianna Butler, just moments after Prahalis herself had played one of the biggest and most important games of her career (one just a few months shy of the WNBA Draft to boot).

For Butler (committed to Syracuse, in orange jeans in photos above), Taylor Ford (also committed to Syracuse, in green shirt in photos above), and Lisa Blair (Ohio State, brown boots above), Prahalis is an invaluable resource and has been for many years. Call it whatever you want—a mentor, Big Sister, or simply “friend”—Prahalis has made an incredible impact on these young women not because she has to, but because she wants to.

“I care about these kids,” says Sammy of her relationship with Butler, Ford, and Blair. “I care about them having a big game more than me having a big game. They’re good kids and I kind of took them under my wing a little bit. They kind of opened up to me and I think they know I’m there for them in basketball and in life.”

Prahalis downplays her impact on these girls’ lives, but ask Butler, Ford, and Blair what Prahalis means to them and they don’t shy away from delivering tremendous praise.

“She has such a big heart,” Butler says, genuinely. “She really does care about us. We talk every day and she is always the first person to call me after I have a game. I know she’ll always be there for me.”

“Sammy helps me a lot, on and off the court,” echoes Blair, the future Buckeye. “I remember she sensed I was kind of shy when I was a freshman and she invited me to her house with a few of her other friends. We’ve been close ever since. That really meant a lot to me.”

Her mentorship of the girls might surprise those who see Prahalis as the hot-headed enfant terrible of the women’s game. In fact, Prahalis would rather not talk about it; her relationship with each young woman is uniquely special and meaningful. The modest Prahalis simply wants to be there for them in any capacity. She talks to Brianna, Taylor, and Lisa every single day encouraging them to finish strong in school and continue working hard at practice. If one of the girls needs a pep talk, Sammy is there to provide it. If one has a question about basketball, there’s no better resource than Prahalis and she is more than happy to help out at any time of the day or night.

“It’s not even a second-thought,” Taylor Ford says nonchalantly. “I know Sammy will have my back.”

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