Julynne da Silva Sa has never made peace with winter, although she has accommodated wind, ice and snow except for one quirk in her wardrobe....
“Everyone knows I don’t like it,” said the 6-foot-4 sophomore who grew up near beaches and has not been tempted even once to try any of the sports contested in the Winter Olympics.
Winter itself is enough of a challenge. She must have skimped on the scouting report before hitting Wyoming because during the first cold snap in the fall of 2016 a teammate dragged da Silva Sa winter-coat shopping at a local church sale. She got a good deal, too, for 10 bucks.
One thing da Silva Sa is stubborn about, though. Her footwear trademark off the court is sandals. Granted, sandals over thick socks, but still.
“I’m always wearing these,” she said. “I hate wearing shoes.”
Unless they are basketball shoes, of course.
One of the clichés that sticks to basketball is the phrase, “It’s always warm in the gym” and da Silva Sa is a disciple of that philosophy.
Also, when you are so tall, your body and the sport seem to be inevitably matched.
“There’s not a lot of girls my height,” she said.
Which is part of the reason da Silva Sa ended up with the Trappers. Now 21, she first competed in the sport at 15. Barcarena is a city of about 100,000 people and linked with those beaches da Silva Sa mentions is a lively shipping industry.
Basketball has become a truly international game over the last quarter century, but the sport operates differently elsewhere. Unlike the United States, schools do not sponsor teams. The action is in clubs. The bigger the city, the more opportunity to develop skills and get noticed for either top-level, in-country pro play, or for overseas college play.
Wanting to attend college in the U.S, at 19 da Silva Sa hooked up with a team in Sao Paulo, which has 12 million people and much more basketball, but is a four-hour flight from her home.
“I didn’t want to stop playing,” da Silva Sa said.
She ended up on a team with current Trapper guard Domenica Gomes. Intermediaries helped show videos of their skills to U.S. coaches and ultimately to the recruiting attention of Northwest coach Janis Beal. Other Brazilian players have been funneled her way before.
“She had a good shot and she could get a rebound and kick it out,” said Beal of her first impression of da Silva Sa on film. “I think she moves pretty well. It’s like having a 7-footer in the men’s game.”
Beal believes – and has repeatedly told da Silva Sa – when she plays more physically “it makes her unstoppable. She definitely has the advantage inside.”
The sophomore admits she has often been homesick since home is 4,868 miles away. The first time da Silva Sa showed her mother Michelle a picture of Wyoming snow, her mom cried and begged her to come home. The scene was that alien to her.
English is da Silva Sa’s second language, but she and Gomes (who also hates snow) converse in Portuguese.
“Coming here alone is hard,” Gomes said. “Coming here with someone else who speaks the same language is better.”
While da Silva Sa will never be the quickest player on the floor, she is sturdy as well as tall and can use her body to edge out foes under the boards and block shots. She has a good touch inside. Possessing a skill that may surprise opponents, she also can hit three-pointers from the top of the key.
“I think, ‘OK, if they don’t cover me and defend me, I’m going to shoot,” da Silva Sa said.
She said Beal’s encouragement and coaching has been a tremendous help and she has learned a lot playing for the Trappers.
“I just love the way she taught me,” da Silva Sa said. “She tells me when I play strong no one can stop me. I’ve learned how to focus on the post. I’ve learned how to fit into my job.”
On a team da Silva Sa says has no superstars – but up to 13 contributors – she has averaged about nine points and five rebounds a game.
As a better player than when she arrived in Wyoming and one who’s English is improved, da Silva Sa feels better equipped for a four-year college. She hopes later she will be good enough to play professionally in Europe.
Since da Silva Sa’s one snowball fight lasted a single throw, and her most distinctive memory of seeing her first hockey game was that it was cold, wherever she goes it will almost certainly be a warmer place than Wyoming.