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Talent translatesfor Miracle

Brazilian center Cintia dos Santos has standout skills for WNBA.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001

Brazilian center Cintia dos Santos has standout skills for WNBA.

ORLANDO -- The mood was serious.

The Orlando Miracle was struggling with communication, failing on defense to tell teammates when they were about to run into a screen. So, one day at practice, coach Carolyn Peck set up a drill and announced that the only sound she wanted to hear was players yelling, "Screen!"

It worked until Cintia dos Santos, with the best of intentions, cautioned a teammate about an impending roadblock by shouting at the top of her lungs: "Scrim!"

Everyone stopped.

Everyone laughed.

What did she say?

A native of Brazil, dos Santos speaks fluent Portuguese and Italian. English is another matter. But to pursue her dream of playing professional basketball, dos Santos is doing what for many years was the only option for American women: living overseas.

"The WNBA has the best players of the world, so it's very good for me, for my career," said dos Santos, a 6-foot-5 center who spends 11 months a year away from home. "Brazil is home. Italy is my second home, and this is my third home."

Days removed from the Italian league playoffs, dos Santos will be in the starting lineup when the Miracle opens preseason play against four-time league champion Houston at 7:30 tonight at the TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando.

Entering its fifth season, the WNBA has become a global league. In the past two drafts, 24 foreign-born players were chosen, including No. 1 picks Ann Wauters of Belgium in 2000 and Lauren Jackson of Australia in 2001.

Foreign players are popular among WNBA coaches because of their versatility, bred by the international style of play that isolates one player inside with four on the perimeter.

"The international game has a lot of big players who can play away from the basket and guards who are used to slashes, cuts, running and give-and-go opportunities," Peck said.

International players also come with valuable experience. Dos Santos, 26, played on the 1996 and 2000 Brazilian national team, winning silver at the 1996 Olympics and bronze in 2000. She has played in the Italian pro leagues the past three years.

After a lengthy -- and expensive -- scouting process, the Miracle selected dos Santos with the fourth overall pick in the 2000 draft. Her impact was immediate. She started 31 games and averaged 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.97 blocks, third-best in the league.

"We talked to a lot of people about Cintia," Peck said. "We watched a lot of film and did a lot of research on her. There were few big players available in last year's draft, and most were foreign. I wanted the quickest of the foreign players, someone who would be able to defend and score and run the floor. Cintia fit the bill."

Dos Santos, whose first name is pronounced "SEEN-cha," spends most of the year in Italy, where the pro season lasts seven months. After Sea Logistic Treviglio was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, dos Santos went to Brazil for two days to visit her family before coming to Orlando.

"Non-stop is normal for me," she said.

Though dos Santos understands English better than she speaks it, she relies on teammates to help translate everything from Peck's instructions during practice to casual conversations.

Translations are a smattering of English, Italian and Spanish, which is close to Portuguese, from American players who learned the languages while playing overseas. But anything dos Santos lacks in communication skills, she makes up for with basketball smarts.

"You need this," she said, pointing to her head. "Intelligence."

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