- Clay Kallam
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Sam Ostarello isn't your typical elite basketball player.
In fact, she's not a typical basketball player of any sort.
"I was hoping to get a band scholarship," says Ostarello. "We're not a very athletic family -- we're artsy."
But no, Ostarello didn't grow up in SoHo in New York City or SoMa in San Francisco. She developed her love of the arts in Fort Pierre, SoDa -- or South Dakota, which isn't normally associated with a thriving hipster scene.
In fact, the residents there "aren't French," explains Ostarello, so they pronounce the city's name "Fort Peer."
In the sixth grade, though, Ostarello picked up a basketball. "I fell in love with it the first day," she says, and the fact that she's 6-foot-2, athletic and skilled just added to the fun. Her high school, Stanley County, has only about 300 students -- from sixth to 12th grade -- so opportunity arrived quickly for Ostarello.
"My freshman year I played the 3, 4 and 5," she says. "My sophomore year we added the 2, and last year I pretty much played everything."
Including the clarinet and tenor sax, both of which she still takes seriously (though she prefers the clarinet). She's in the concert band, the pep band and the jazz band, and her pregame ritual includes tunes from barefoot New Age pianist George Winston, not the latest blast from "Tha Carter III."
So how did the girl from the middle of nowhere wind up committing to Purdue and playing for the Mile Hi Gold summer team out of Denver? She made her way to Colorado's elite camp, and coach Kathy McConnell-Miller was immediately impressed with her size and skills -- and mentioned her to Mile Hi (and Regis Jesuit) coach Carl Mattei.
"She spruced me [up] a little bit," Ostarello says, so Mattei invited her, sight unseen, to play with the Gold in the River City Classic in Memphis last summer. Ostarello took the plunge -- and the several flights that got her from Fort Pierre to Memphis -- to play for a coach she'd never seen with players she'd never met.
"It was a little daunting," she understates, but she got off the plane in Memphis looking for Mattei. "He was expecting me to be Amish, with the long skirt and everything," she says, "and he gave me the weirdest look."
Mattei's look wasn't disapproving, though. Usually prospects have their height exaggerated, but Ostarello was longer and taller than he expected. And after a couple days with his team, he was sold.
"She was a fun, Christian kid," he says. "She became one of my kids right away -- she's a humble person who works hard, and the team had no problem with her."
They might have, of course, because here comes a girl they don't know, taking away minutes and maybe even glory, from those who have played for Mattei for years. And she already was a Purdue commit, so what was she doing?
"It's such a huge jump," says Ostarello of the move from South Dakota basketball to the cream of AAU competition. "It's out of this world." But it was necessary. "I couldn't imagine playing D1 if I hadn't done this," she says. "I'm used to a different style: Slow down and set it up. If you went back there, your jaw would drop."
But Ostarello adjusted quickly and bonded with the Mile Hi girls immediately. "You make friends," she says. "Everybody's looking out for everybody. It's a family."
It wasn't exactly the art-loving family she was used to, but she loved the experience. "You come from South Dakota, and nobody knows you. It's like opening a new door."
And when she goes through it, Sam Ostarello even can play her own fanfare.
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Clay Kallam is a contributor to ESPN HoopGurlz. He is the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls' Basketball: Building a Winning Program" and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.
A South Dakota native self-described as "artsy," Sam Ostarello isn't your typical high-ranking teenage basketball prospect, writes Clay Kallam.