Basket = Cesto
Rebound = Rebote
Before training camp began weeks ago, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve put together a cheat sheet. A legal-sized piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle. On the left, basketball-related words in English. On the other side, the Portuguese translation.
Damiris Dantas, the second of the team’s two first-round draft picks in 2012, was coming north from Brazil. Drafted almost on spec by the Lynx on the advice of trusted experts, the nearly 6-4 Dantas had a strong frame, exceptional quickness, international experience.
And almost zero command of the English language. So Reeve wanted to be sure she was prepared to communicate with her.
Weeks later, Reeve is starting to think this no-English thing is just a big ruse.
“I don’t know what she doesn’t understand,” Reeve said. “Because it seems like everything we do, she gets. So I don’t know, really don’t. She has hidden it well.”
When the Lynx decided to sign Dantas, she was going to provide depth in the post. But after forwards Devereaux Peters and then Rebekkah Brunson had knee surgery, Dantas went from depth to depended-upon.
And she has delivered. Dantas has started five games at Brunson’s power forward position, averaging 32 minutes and 8.2 rebounds per game. She also has shown a comfort level for the game that allows her to pass out of the post (2.2 assists per game).
As Reeve said, she gets it. Late on opening night, in a key possession in Washington, Dantas was supposed to hand the ball to Lindsay Whalen off a screen. Instead, she faked the pass, turned to the lane and scored a key basket.
Two nights later in the home opener, she moved to center after Janel McCarville turned her ankle late and didn’t blink. She got the assist on Seimone Augustus’ shot that forced overtime.
“Look how poised she is,” Lynx assistant Jim Petersen said. “We’re putting her in very difficult situations. … We’ve been throwing a ton at her, and she has taken everything and knocked it out of the park.”
After Thursday’s practice Dantas, with the help of Google translate, answered a few questions. It’s pretty clear that Dantas is more mature than her 21 years would suggest.
“There are some difficulties,” she typed, regarding her first season in a new league and a new country. “But nothing scares me.”
Older than her years
Assist = Assistencia
Defense = Defesa
There might be a reason for this.
She might be just 21, but she has a wealth of experience. The native of Sao Paulo, Dantas was not yet 20 when she went to Spain to play professionally. More recently she has played pro ball in her native Brazil.
Dantas played for Brazil in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and was MVP in the under-19 World Championships a year later. She was on Brazil’s team in the 2012 London Olympics.
Perhaps more important is what Dantas has been through. She grew up in a difficult neighborhood. Her mother died when she was 9, leaving behind Dantas and her two sisters, one of whom deals with cerebral palsy. “I do everything for her,” Dantas said.
The three sisters were raised by an aunt and uncle.
“I was raised by a wonderful family who always supported me in everything,” Dantas said. “I have two sisters I love. I don’t know how I [got over] the death of my mother. But I am and always will be strong. It’s my motto. I know she is very proud of her daughters.”
For Dantas, basketball was a way out. At 13, she was recommended to Janeth Arcain, the former Brazilian star who was a part of the Houston Comets dynasty in the WNBA’s early years. Arcain runs a basketball training center in Sao Paulo. Dantas applied, was accepted and began her quick ascension in the game.
A ‘new family’
Foul = Falta
Fastbreak = Contra-ataque
Just about everybody on the Lynx knows what Dantas is going through, living in a strange country, not knowing the language. Anyone who has played overseas — most Lynx do over the winter — can relate.
“You sit there and your teammates laugh,” McCarville said. “You want to giggle a little bit, but you don’t know what’s going on. She’s good.”
Dantas’ personality is already coming through. Already she has made it known that she thinks Seimone Augustus is muito louco (crazy). McCarville jokes that all she tells Dantas to do is rebote and rapido (rebound and run fast).
The entire team has made a point of including her. The players have all downloaded translation apps to their cell phones.
Dantas already can understand more than she speaks.
And her play shows it.
“My goodness, playing 30-plus minutes?” Reeve said. “A starting role? A day before camp I don’t know if I would have guessed that. Even a week into camp. But she’s been critical for us.”
And she has started feeling at home.
“I feel homesick,” Dantas said. “But my teammates help me. I say that I have a new family here in the U.S.”