Far from her native Brazil, Priscila Santos has found her calling at USU Eastern

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 11:55 p.m. MST

TAYLORSVILLE — It was not a typical college recruiting trip.

It was a cold winter night in Brazil when Dave Paur first saw the player who would average more points than any other women in the country this season. It was 10 at night, and Priscila Santos was playing basketball with her college teammates on a cement, outdoor court.

It was dark; it was cold.

But Paur knew right away Priscila Santos was special.

USU-Eastern's head women's basketball coach asked her right then and there if she wanted to leave her home in San Paulo, Brazil, to play basketball in Price, Utah. She didn't hesitate.

"I said yes right away," said Santos, who led the Golden Eagles to a 72-68 come-from-behind win against Colorado Northwest Community College in the first round of the Region 18 Tournament on Thursday afternoon at Salt Lake Community College. "I didn't need to think about it. It's the dream of every (player) to come here and play."

Adjusting to small-town life in Price was difficult at first, but Santos said great teachers, coaches and teammates helped her make the transition.

"It's definitely different," she said. "In San Paulo the traffic is crazy. It could take three hours to get to school. The subway was always crowded and I could go to the market without ever seeing anyone I know. In Price I meet everyone all the time; streets, the market, it's just really, really different. The people here in America are amazing. I've felt very welcome since I came here."

Part of what drives Santos is her belief that she is honoring God when she plays to the best of her ability. She said her father told her and her brothers when she was just seven-years-old that they had to choose a sport.

"I wanted to play sports professionally and so I prayed about it," she said. "And God didn't say soccer or volleyball; he showed me basketball and I've played since then. I love this sport."

Santos said great coaching is a huge part of her success, and added that Paur is more like a father and friend than just a coach.

"He knows how to get the best out of me," she said.

And her best is impressive.

Santos is averaging 29 points per game this season and was named the Region 18 Player of the Year on Thursday night. The sophomore doesn't just excel on the court, she is a 4.0 student who will be the school's valedictorian.

She hopes to continue her college hoops career — and her education — at a Division I program, but she has to wait for the NCAA to clear her.

"She's 24 years old," said Paur. The decision should come in April, and if she isn't eligible for NCAA basketball, she plans to compete at the NAIA level.

"And that will make some NAIA coach really happy," said Paur with a grin.

Santos came into this season averaging 18 points per game, but was asked by her coaches to do more offensively.

"We had two shooters who didn't show up, both were 3-point shooters, so I told her, 'You've got to score more points'," said Paur.

And Santos did just that. She led the team to a come-from-behind victory with 34 points, including six 3-pointers, eight rebounds and five steals.

But ever humble, Santos credited her teammates for the win. Paur agreed that the other players did help the squad overcome an 11-point deficit at halftime, especially Emery High graduate Abbie Kay.

She led the second-half comeback, scoring 15 of her 18 points in the second half. She also grabbed eight rebounds and showed off a reverse layup that even impressed her coach.

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