Day 5: Dantas Looks To Overcome Language Barrier

Mark Remme
Lynx Editor/Writer

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Damiris Dantas had somewhat of a Draft buffer between being selected 12th overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2012 and arriving this week at Training Camp. A native of Brazil, Dantas stayed international in the interim before getting an invite to camp this spring in part because in the time that transpired Minnesota’s roster spots were, for the most part, spoken for.

This year, Dantas—as 6-foot-4 center who averaged 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Brazilian League this winter—has her shot to make the Lynx’s squad. When it comes to waiting, she’s hoping the time she spent between Draft night and arriving in the Twin Cities helps her solidify a spot for the 2014 season.

“To me it was so good coming [two] years after the Draft because I could improve my game, and I know I have a lot to learn, a lot to improve,” Dantas said through her translator, WNBA legend and four-time champion Janeth Arcain. “But right now, I am prepared to do this and help this team.”

Dantas has a chance to make an impact on the Lynx this season given they don’t have exceptional true center depth on the roster. Behind starter Janel McCarville, Minnesota has a collection of players who can step into that 5 spot if the team wants to play small. But Dantas has the chance to step in and give the Lynx a little more size behind McCarville.

Her goal is to help the team primarily with her one-on-one defense in the paint as well as contributing as much as she can offensively. Fortunately for her and the rest of the seven rookies on the Training Camp roster, whoever fills out the depth chart during the 2014 regular season will have the benefit of four All-Stars in the starting lineup and capable scorers off the bench. The Lynx shouldn’t be looking for lead scoring out of any of their final roster additions. They’ll want defense, efficient minutes and hard-working players in those roles.

Dantas, so far, is fitting that description.

“She moves really well,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Defensively she’s physical, and she’s picking things up. There’s no way you walk into the gym and pick her out to be someone with language barriers. She fits right in and knows what’s happening, and she’s in the right place for that.”

The language gap, if anything, might be the toughest part of her transition to the WNBA. She does not speak English, which is why Arcain—a longtime friend and mentor of hers—is with her during camp. She’s there for support and guidance both on and off the court given that she, too, came to the WNBA in 1997 not knowing any English, and while she’s there to help translate she’s trying to ensure Dantas doesn’t become too dependent in that area. At some point, Arcain will go back to Brazil and will not be there to help Dantas with translations.

That’s why Reeve has asked players to talk directly to Dantas as much as they can, and Arcain is using her time off the court to help her learn words in English. Some of those exercises include putting English words on the walls of her apartment to gain familiarity.

Arcain said when she came to America to join the Houston Comets, her teammates were incredibly supportive and helped her learn the language day-by-day. That’s the type of environment the two feel like the Lynx are providing in camp.

Then, of course, there is the fact that basketball is basketball. The majority of the American-born Lynx players go overseas every winter to play ball in countries all over the world. They don’t necessarily know the language there and have translators, but at the end of the day the easiest form of international communication on the court is simply knowing the game.

“The only thing I know is basketball is basketball,” Arcain said. “What the coach wants is the ball in the basket and play hard defense. This is what’s good to me because I could understand this. Now, I’m trying to pass this to Damiris.”

It’s not a unique situation for the Lynx, either. Two years ago, Spain-native Queralt Casas was in camp and knew only Spanish.

“At some point Janeth is going to go home, and it’s going to be on our players to communicate…whatever our method is going to be,” Reeve said. “They might need to learn some words, and obviously Damiris needs to learn some words in English.”

As for her on the court ability, Dantas is a member of the Brazilian National Team and has the ability to help the Lynx in the paint. Now it’s time to showcase throughout Training Camp and the preseason that she can be a viable reserve for this Lynx squad.

She said she’s already comfortable with this team and what she can bring to the organization. Part of it is the comfort level they feel thanks to Reeve and assistant coaches Jim Petersen and Shelley Patterson. Petersen stopped by after practice on Wednesday to deliver a message through Arcain to Dantas. He just wanted to Dantas to know she’s doing a great job and they’re happy to have her.

“They help me a lot,” Dantas said. “Every time we practice, they come to say something. They try to show me something. And I’m trying to do the best I can to understand what they want.”

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