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Friday, July 19, 2019

The Big Ten As I See It: “Movie Night” Helps a Talented Big Ten Teenager Take a Step Toward Maturity

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Photo Caption: Despite starting the season with a three-game suspension, Ohio State star Samantha Prahalis was at the top of her game in the Buckeye’s recent 95-84 Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge win over the No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners. Prahalis notched a double-double of 15 points and a career-high 15 assists. Talent has never been a question mark for the fiery young point guard, however. Instead, her major limitation has been a lack of composure in the face of frustration. To remedy that problem, Buckeye head coach Jim Foster put together a movie to help his prodigy take an important step toward maturity. Did the unusual (and creative) tactic work?

Photo Credit: Courtesy The Ohio State University

By Sharon Crowson

When watching talented college athletes, it is easy to forget that the players are still teenagers—or have just left that stage.  At least it is easy most of the time.  But sometimes their immaturity makes their young age impossible to ignore.  Such was the case with Ohio State point guard Samantha Prahalis last season.

When she maintains her composure, Prahalis can carry the Buckeyes.  When she loses it, she can bury them.  At her best, Prahalis is the player OSU fans love and opponents love to hate.  She is flashy, very clever with the ball and plays with the swagger she learned on the playgrounds in her native New York City.  Unlike those of players who are more flash than talent, Prahalis’s passes normally find their targets and her ball handling befuddles opponents, rather than teammates.

She is a fiery, passionate player who must walk a fine line between feeding on her passion and being consumed by it.  She does not always stay on the correct side of that line.  After several flare-ups during the regular season, there were two games in the postseason when Prahalis’s sometimes tenuous hold on her composure was evident.

The first blow-up occurred in the championship game of the Big Ten tournament.  It could have, and perhaps should have, cost her team the title.  In the first half, she responded to an out-of-bounds call by gesturing wildly and yelling an obscenity at the referee.  No technical foul was called.  In the second half, after being called for a foul, she completely lost her composure and spent at least 10 seconds stomping around the court, yelling and gesticulating.  Why the ref did not call a technical foul was beyond the understanding of almost everyone in attendance.  Had the technical been called, she would have fouled out and missed crunch time in the game.  Since the Buckeyes only won by two points, her absence would likely have changed the outcome.

In the Buckeyes’ season-ending loss to Mississippi State, Prahalis again totally lost her composure when she was called for her fifth foul.  The game was decided at that point so her meltdown did not immediately hurt her team.  But to behave like that in a nationally televised game, put a huge X on Prahalis’s back.  She has invited officials to watch her more closely and opponents to try and provoke her.  How she responds to that may well ultimately determine how big a mark she leaves on the game.

Obviously her offseason challenge was to cram several years of maturing into several months.  When asked about whether the OSU coaching staff could help her, head coach Jim Foster said, “It’s a coach’s job to do whatever it takes to give the players what they need.”  In this case, whatever it took came in the form of a movie Foster entitled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, starring one Samantha Prahalis.  The movie ignored much of the good to concentrate on the bad and the ugly.  While no one but Prahalis was allowed to view the film, its audience of one found the film to be a powerful experience.

To her credit, Prahalis does not try to avoid the hard questions about her behavior.  She acknowledges that her inability to maintain her composure and stay mentally focused hurts her team, often when they least can afford it.  She concedes that she must stay focused on the moment in games and not let herself get caught up in plays and calls that have come and gone.  For incentive, she has the movie.  She has no problem admitting that she was embarrassed by what she saw and says she did not realize that she had behaved so badly.  She says of the movie, “I could only watch it once.  It was too hard to watch it more than once, but it is burned in my brain.”

It is clear from Prahalis’s demeanor in talking about it that she means what she says and is sincere about wanting to change her ways on the court, but intentions have a way of getting lost in the emotionally charged atmosphere of a game.  Should she start to forget, she does have another tool, her position coach Debbie Black.  Black, who played her college ball as a point guard for Foster at St. Joseph’s University, shares Prahalis’s passion for the game and her fiery personality on the court.  The two have developed a close bond over Prahalis’s first two years at Ohio State. Prahalis usually goes right to Black when a timeout is called during the game, and she sits right next to Black when she is not on the floor.  Prahalis is smart enough to recognize that Black has wisdom that can benefit her.  She values Black because she “does not sugar coat anything,” and vows to listen to Black even more this year.

Despite her promises, however, Prahalis is clearly not there yet.  She was suspended for the first three games of the season for what the school called a “secondary NCAA rules violation.”  While details are not known, players are not generally suspended for 10 percent of a season for unknowingly breaking a minor rule.  At least one blogger, claiming inside knowledge, has claimed that the violation had to do with a trip Prahalis allegedly took last spring at the expense of boyfriend and Buckeye hoops standout Evan Turner or his agent to accompany Turner to NBA Draft Day. (The 6-7 Turner was selected No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.) But with no confirmation of that account from Prahalis, Ohio State or the NCAA, the lack of details make it hard to judge if the incident represents a minor mistake or a major backslide. Still, it has to be worrisome to the Ohio State staff.

Ohio State has won the last six Big Ten regular-season championships, but in five of those six years they have been upset early in the NCAA tournament.  This is the senior season for Prahalis’s close buddy, center Jantel Lavender, who will leave OSU as one of the programs best all-time players.  If she is to finally lead her team to it’s potential in the postseason, Prahalis will have to be able to play at her best.

Prahalis has the right words and seems to have the right attitude.  Only time can tell if the right actions will follow.

Originally published Fri, December 10, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
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11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.