From Portugal

Tess Santos

I stepped up to the free-throw line and took a deep breath.

Not only had we qualified for the world championships for the first time, we made it to the finals right here in front of our home crowd in Portugal.

As I walk up to the line to take my two shots, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that we all wrote history for our country together.

We had a few minutes to go, but in all honesty, we were simply outplayed in the final. By that point, we were down almost 20 points. So, technically, there wasn’t all that much pressure on my shoulders to sink the two shots.

But then, this happened…

The entire stadium started singing our national anthem. 5,000 Portuguese fans, on their feet, singing their hearts out. Without a doubt, it was the most chilling moment of my entire basketball career.

And as you can imagine, I didn’t want to let the fans down. Fortunately, I made both throws.

More importantly though, this magical moment really gave basketball a push in Portugal. In a country that doesn’t necessarily value basketball as much as other sports, this was one of the greatest rewards.

Coming To America

I cherished playing for my home country more than anything, but it was also just one chapter in my career.

Right after this tournament, it was time to plan my next move.

A lot of my Portuguese teammates moved to the United States to receive an education and play basketball. The system in the US is really the only system in the world that allows athletes to combine sports and studies without having to give up one or the other. In Portugal, this simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, while playing for Portugal, I had several opportunities to showcase my skills to various college coaches. Getting noticed was a pretty big deal, especially for a 15-year-old kid.

A recruiter walked straight up to my parents during one of the games, told them he loved my potential. A few months later I got an offer from Presbyterian College. Coach Steelman offered me a full scholarship and told me he wanted me to join his team.

I didn’t commit right away as I obviously wanted to weigh my options. After all, moving to another continent shouldn’t be an impulsive decision.

Ultimately, it came down to a variety of factors. But in the end, nothing could beat Presbyterian’s offer.

I knew that by joining the Blue Hose, I’d be a valued member of the team. And that was something I deeply cared about.

Playing For Presbyterian

I’d be lying to you if I said my time here had been all sunshine and rainbows. I rolled my ankle pretty bad coming in my freshman year and missed a lot of time because of it. All my teammates were on the court, learning together and building chemistry, while I just sat on the sideline and watched.

It was unbelievably hard in the beginning. I was 18, nursing an injury, missing my parents, and was halfway across the world in a new situation with almost nothing. All I wanted to do was to fit in. But even the style of play was so different than what I played in Portugal.

In the States, basketball is a lot more iso-play and 1-on-1 than in Portugal. I knew I had to adapt. But when you’re sitting on the sideline for so long, it isn’t easy.

I eventually came back and even earned a starting spot in January, right as conference play was about to begin.

By accepting that I had to adjust, I wound up being named to the All-Conference Freshman Team at the end of the year. This was something I thought was impossible just months before.

As I went back home for the summer to play for the national team again, my ankle began to cause me severe pain again.

I could not catch a break with this thing. This time, surgery was needed, so I spent summer workouts and the preseason on the sideline for the second time in two years.

Going into my sophomore year, Coach Sharp became our new coach. Just like my freshman year, all my teammates were learning our new system while I was left with a throbbing ankle, just watching and cheering them on.

Once I was back on my feet though, Coach Sharp’s new system worked perfectly with my game. We run much more of a “motion” offense now, meaning we use screens and cuts to move the ball. Having played a very similar style in European ball, I was far better suited for our new offense and embraced it.


By accepting that I had to adjust, I wound up being named to the All-Conference Freshman Team at the end of the year. This was something I thought was impossible just months before.

Pride Of Portugal

In the future, I hope I get the opportunity to go back and play for Portugal again in the European championships. I love my country, and I’m proud to be Portuguese. Spending my last few years in the states has given me a far deeper appreciation for my culture and home, even though I’m not there anymore.

These last few years have really taught me to cherish my time playing because whether it’s college ball or national ball, it all seems to go by so fast.

I’ve also learned that you can’t dwell on the past, and you have to look forward. Playing seven games in ten days can both be mentally and physically straining, especially if things aren’t going well. 

But as long as you focus on what you can do, you’ll be in a better place to do your best.

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