From Rio To The Bay: Débora Dos Santos Makes Her Mark on the Hilltop

10/17/23: USF WBB Media Day at War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center in San Francisco, CA. Image by Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics

Despite growing up in the soccer-crazed city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Débora Dos Santos’ love for the less locally popular sport of basketball shined through. She’s now reaching new heights as a starter for the USF Women’s Basketball Team. This season, the senior forward leads the West Coast Conference (WCC) in rebounding and is ranked sixth in points per game. 

Santos credits her rebounding ability as the main drive of her game. “That has always been something I believe that I focus on,” she said. Through her first two seasons with the Dons, Santos sat out the entire 2021-2022 season with an ACL tear, and last season suffered a hand injury that took her off the court for nearly two months. “This season, I can finally be back the whole year, so I’m able to actually show that I can grab more rebound(s) and play more down there,” she said. With Santos in her first injury-free season on the Hilltop, she has been able to showcase her talent in full effect. “She is the heart of our offense and can completely take over a game, other teams have to base their defense around her,” said teammate Jasmine Gayles

Santos said she was always interested in sports, and originally started running track and field. When she was 13, during practice, she saw a basketball team and asked her older brother, Israel, who played on the men’s team, if she could play basketball. “I started from there and since then, it has just been a huge part of my life,” she said.

While playing in Brazil, Santos said that opportunities for basketball were more limited than in the United States. “We had only three teams in the whole state,” she said. “So, if we wanted to play basketball with different teams, we would have to travel. The Club wouldn’t give us that much support financially… they would give much more attention to soccer,” she said. “You had to come up with money for our trips.”

Upon leaving Brazil, Santos was initially shocked at the basketball culture in the United States. “It was a totally different reality. We had much more teams,” she said. “[For] my AAU [Amateur Athletic Union travel] team, we went to a tournament that had so many courts in one single place, and I was just so amazed because I’ve never seen any of that.” Before heading to USF, Santos played high school basketball at Wasatch Academy in Utah and played her first year of college in Levelland, Texas at South Plains College.

Santos said she takes pride in knowing that she is representing her country each time she steps onto the court. “Not that many players that I played with, or against, in Brazil had the opportunity to be here. I just thank God because I can still be here.”

Santos said her family has played a big role in keeping her motivated, especially her mom, Flávia. “She’s a really hard-working person. She always had the best advice for me,” Santos said. “She has been through some stuff in her life and has always been open to me about it. She is definitely one of my biggest role models.”

Santos carries out that same support her mom gives her towards her teammates, not only as a basketball player but as a friend. “She is an incredibly selfless, humble, and giving teammate that has made everyone’s experience around her better,” said Gayles. “It is one of my biggest blessings that basketball brought us together.” 

Teammate and guard Cami Fulcher added, “After playing with her for three years now, she’s someone who is one of my best friends and is a great teammate. She gives her all to the team both on and off the court.”

With two games left in the season, Santos and the Dons hope to finish strong. Their last game is on Saturday, Mar. 2 at 2 p.m., where they will face off against the San Diego Toreros.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor:Jordan Premmer, Sports Editor: Chase Darden

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