A ball soars through the air as it flies toward the backboard, swirling along the rim. The crowd goes into a silent hush waiting for it to embrace gravity and fall through the net. The scoreboard goes up by two points. Little did anyone know, a star player for Texas was being made.
Mariana Witt, a 20-year-old freshman from the southern part of Brazil, was recruited for the KC’s women’s basketball 2016/2017 season after her athletic abilities were shown across the web.
“It has been my dream to play here [United States]” Witt said, “Here you can play basketball and get a scholarship for it. In Brazil, you don’t get a scholarship for playing sports, but for being a good student and having good grades.”
Witt has been in the United States for almost a year and a half, but she spent her first year at Highland College in Kansas.
“Last year I was playing in Kansas in a very small town,” she said. “There were only two gas stations and a few houses outside of the college. I came to Kilgore this year, and to me it is a big place.”
Witt is not the only one grateful for her relocation.
“Signing a player of Mariana’s caliber is super exciting for us here at Kilgore,” said Anna Nimz, Lady Rangers basketball coach. “She is incredibly coachable and works hard to do what is asked of her. She brings a lot of size and skill to the game.”
Although she is new to Kilgore, Witt says the transition from Brazil to Texas was not very difficult for her.
“It was easy because I knew English. They [Brazil and the United States] are not that different,” Witt said. “The food is similar, but I have noticed that there are a lot of cars. In Brazil, it is a lot of buses like you would see in New York.”
Witt said the biggest difference she has noticed between America and Brazil, is the way that people carry themselves.
“People are shy here,“Witt said. “In Brazil, they are much warmer. They are more open. In Brazil, you talk to everyone. You go to the supermarket and become friends with the people in there just because you’re there every few days.”
Practicing for her games is just one thing on her busy schedule. Witt said concentrating in her classes plays an important role in her ability to speak as well as she does. You wouldn’t know it from just having a conversation with her, but Witt is self-taught in English and speaks Spanish as well as her native language, Portuguese.
“If you can speak English in Brazil, it is a good thing,” Witt said. “I had a few classes but I didn’t learn anything. I only spoke it every few days. I taught myself through watching movies and interacting with people here. My class work has really helped me to understand better.”
Witt’s peers and instructors are also very impressed with how well she deals with the language barrier.
“She taught herself how to speak English,” Nimz said. “I think that speaks volumes to the type of person and player that she is.”
When she is not at practice or in class, she enjoys watching movies, skypeing with her friends and family, and drinking a special tea indigenous to her home called Chimarrão.
“I like to watch cartoon movies and action movies. I like scary movies too but I don’t like to watch them by myself,” she said. “I like to watch them in Portuguese because after a long day of being in class or hearing English all day, I don’t have to think about what is being said.”
Witt is majoring in physical therapy but she is unsure of what the future holds for her after graduation.
“I want to see what happens in the next two or three years. I would like to go to a university here [United States] but we will see. Physical therapy is not as big in Brazil as it is here. You can’t go there and make good money with it and I like Texas.”
Witt says she would also like to travel more before returning to Brazil. Whereas before she could only see foreign places online or in videos and pictures, basketball has presented with her the opportunity to experience new cultures.
“I don’t visit home a lot because it is expensive. It’s like $1,000 a ticket. I would like to see Florida though,” Witt said. “I don’t like cold places, so maybe somewhere like California or New Mexico. I also want to see the big cities like San Francisco or Las Vegas. “