When rookie power forward Damiris Dantas entered Training Camp, there were plenty of question marks.
Would the language barrier (Dantas, a Brazilian native, speaks Portuguese), become problematic? Could she adjust to the WNBA game after playing internationally for her whole career? Heck, would she even make the team?
Of course, Dantas did in fact make the team and now she finds herself starting for the injured All-Star Rebekkah Brunson. Through five games, the rookie is averaging 5.6 points per game (9th among rookies), 8.2 rebounds (1st), 2.2 assists (5th), and is shooting 52.4 percent from the field (5th).
Now the question around Lynx facilities isnt if Dantas can hold her own in the WNBA. Its how good can she be?
After five games, perhaps we shouldnt claim her as the next big thing. Shell most definitely go through growing pains this season. In fact, her last two games have been pretty below-average as shes shot a combined 2-for-9. But in the teams 3-point win over the Chicago Sky on Monday, Dantas had a beautiful bounce pass late in the game to an open Lindsay Whalen.
Moments like that help forget about a shooting slump.
Earlier this season in a win over the Washington Mystics, Dantas became the second rookie in WNBA history to have 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists. The other player? Candace Parker... Not bad company.
Head coach Cheryl Reeve has said in practice that Dantas doesnt always understand what Reeve is saying, but youd be hard-pressed to know that by just watching a game.
"What I like about her is she's not afraid, she's physical and she's agile, Reeve said.
Behind the scenes Dantas has been a player the team has had its eye on for quite some time. The Lynx drafted her back in 2012 with the No. 12 overall pick knowing they didnt need her to contribute early on. It was a bit of a gamble, but it seems to be paying off now.
Before we drafted her, it was limited evaluation. It was word of mouth that Damiris would be a young player, somebody that we should look at, Reeve said. So we drafted her knowing that at that time we didnt need her to come over We have connections internally who have connections overseas. Weve got some gurus, if you will, that we rely on heavily.
When Dantas arrived, there was no sign that the team would be without Brunson for the majority of the summer. After inconsistent play from the post reserves last season, the Lynx knew they needed to strengthen down low. The thought was to have Dantas come off the bench and ease her way into the rotation.
Not so fast.
Brunson arrived at Media Day and almost immediately it became noticeable that something wasnt right. The 10-year pro had suffered from tendinitis over the years and it had finally caught up with her.
She underwent surgery on her right knee to repair a tendon and that was that. It wouldnt have been as devastating if the Lynx werent already without their top bench forward Dev Peters, who underwent surgery about a week before Brunson.
Reeve noted that Brunson had a severe case of tendinitis throughout last season, so this news isnt exactly something that shocked her, but still doesnt make it any easier to deal with.
When an athlete plays pretty much year-round like Brunson does, these injuries are unfortunately bound to happen.
Someone has to step up. Thats 14-15 rebounds a game that were going to be missing out on, thats energy, thats hustle, Augustus said after getting word of the injury. Thats our defensive anchor, so someone has to step up in many different areas. Someone may have to grab three or four more rebounds; someone might have to take the tough defensive assignment in the post. Its going to be a total team effort.
It has been a team effort. Everybodys done a little bit more without Brunson, but Dantas has done more than anybodys expected out of her. Her passing, combined with the passing of Janel McCarville, is deadly for other post players. Scoring will come with confidence, but with a team with three Olympians, Dantas doesnt have to force anything.
(I) tell her once and she does it and does it well, Reeve said. Thats been really really impressive. Shes learned that youre playing with Seimone, Maya, Lindsay, Janel. You dont have to do a whole lot. You keep it simple.
Shes doing all of this without being able to communicate with her teammates through the English language. Sure, she knows a few English words, but for the most part, shes learning on the run. Literally.
Augustus noted earlier in the season that most WNBA players go through the same transition each offseason when they play overseas when it comes to language. Augustus played for Dynamo Kursk this season with fellow WNBA players Brunson, Ephiphanny Prince and Candice Dupree. Dantas doesnt have the luxury of playing with multiple Brazillian players.
Thats why she brought WNBA legend and Brazilian native Janeth Arcain with her in Training Camp to help her transition.
I try every time to talk a little words in English with her, and in her apartment I put a lot of words on the wall with the basketball words for her to try to learn and understand what they say, Arcain said in Training Camp. And shes doing very well because in practice we can see, I can see how she can understand and sometimes Im not going to be there to help her because she has to learn for herself, hear the voice of her teammates and try to understand.
Once she does understand, though. Watch out. If shes been able to be this impressive without being able to speak with her teammates, we can only imagine how things will be when she can.
Shes just 21, and I think so far shes doing so well. This is going to take a long time to be successful in the WNBA, Arcain said. You have to play hard every time, practice hard every time, and make you better each day.
For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter.