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Samantha Prahalis Changing the Women’s Game

Over the last several years, players like Diana Tarausi, Candace Parker and Brittney Griner were heralded as players who would change the women’s game. Each is a spectacular player: Tarausi’s shooting and competitive fire, Parker’s versatility and basketball I.Q and Griner’s length and athleticism certainly separate these players from their peers. However, have they caused a change to the way that the women’s game is coached or in the way that girls train?

Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis is a player who could be a game changer, especially if she leads the Buckeyes deep into the NCAA Tournament (a high profile match-up vs. the unbeaten Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four would be ideal). Prahalis lacks the others’ size, length and explosiveness. However, as NBA fans scour NCAA basketball for the next Steve Nash, they may need to turn to the women’s game to find her.

“This is a kid who, if you’re willing to come watch, can change your perception,” Ohio State Coach Jim Foster said. “Our sport is in dire need of a Sammy Prahalis who can bring that spontaneous enthusiasm from a crowd.”

Originally, a star youth football player, Prahalis is now one of the top college point guards. Unlike many of her peers, however, she plays with creativity, entertaining the crowd with her passing.

Several years ago, I wrote about Manu Ginobili. When he threw around the back passes or made inside-hand lay-ups, coaches remarked about his fundamental skills. However, if players of these coaches made the same moves or passes, most of the coaches would bench the player for being too fancy. People credit him with the step-step move even though Allen Iverson had been using the same move for years in the NBA. There seemed to be a double-standard. Everyone loved Ginobili’s flair, but few wanted that type of creativity on their team.

Prahalis suffers from the same issues because people do not expect a female point guard to pass like she does. While these passes excite fans, many feel that they are not fundamentally sound plays. However, if Nash made the same pass, we would remark about his court vision, creativity or passing skills.

Prahalis is a game-changer because she is changing women’s basketball coaches’ perception of guard play and potentially the way that girls train.

A female point guard does not need to dribble the ball into the front court and enter the ball into a 1-4-high offense. Instead, she can be the catalyst. She can entertain and excel. She can turn a defender in circles with a dribble move (:22) and then whip a no-look pass for a lay-up.

However, not every player possesses these skills. Prahalis had the work ethic to develop the skills required to exhibit creativity on the court.

The moves did not come out of nowhere. Jerry Powell, a trainer in North Babylon, N.Y….says Prahalis begged him to teach her how to do inside-out crossovers, moves that use exaggerated motions before changing directions, and he had her strengthen her handle with heavy balls up and down the court.

Once she developed the skills and played with the fearlessness befitting a football star, she had to find a coach who would embrace her skills rather than try to change the way that she played the game.

Foster was not opposed to change. Rather, he had found workable formulas previously, but now he saw Big Ten teams lagging in speed. Just as the Buckeyes’ football coach, Jim Tressel, did with quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Foster promised to tailor the offense to Prahalis’s unique skills.

As more players develop the fundamentals, creativity and fearlessness (willingness to make a mistake) similar to Prahalis, they will search for coaches willing to embrace their skill sets and challenge them to continue developing their skills. As more players follow Prahalis’ lead – and Portland, Oregon high school phenom Shoni Schimmel could be next – coaches will adjust to the more skilled, more athletic, more creative point guards, just as they are adapting to skilled six-footers and posts who can dribble.

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