Erika de Souza ready to rock
MINNEAPOLIS -- Erika de Souza stood in front of the media Tuesday afternoon, talking about her journey back to the United States, with her agent Fabio Jardine doing the translating from Portuguese to English.
A few questions in, de Souza was asked whether she was tired or ready to go for Wednesday's Game 2 of the WNBA Finals against the Minnesota Lynx at the Target Center.
No translation needed.
"Ready to go," de Souza said in English, smiling.
It took three flights and nearly two days for de Souza to return to the Atlanta Dream from Colombia, where she led Brazil to a spot in the Olympic tournament in London next summer. When she finally rolled into the team hotel at about 11 p.m. on Monday, there was a welcoming party for her in the lobby.
"I hugged her," said Dream coach Marynell Meadors, whose team lost Game 1 to the Lynx, 88-74. "I said, 'Get over here, I need to hug you.' I was in the lobby waiting, but it wasn't only me. There were some players there. We were all happy to see her."
Point guard Lindsey Harding was in bed when de Souza arrived. But when she saw de Souza in the hallway of the hotel Tuesday morning, "I screamed her name at the top of my lungs and she then ignored me and shut the door and wouldn't let me in," Harding said, laughing. "And then she gave me the biggest hug ever."
The Brazilians won the FIBA Americas Tournament on Saturday night and de Souza was named the tournament MVP. She said she did her best to keep up with the Dream with spotty Internet service and little television coverage. She kept in contact with her teammates via text.
De Souza left her WNBA team after the first game of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana on Sept. 22, the Dream down 0-1 and facing two elimination games. Employing a smaller, faster lineup, Atlanta won both of those games to advance to the WNBA Finals.
But de Souza's absence was noted in the WNBA Finals opener on Sunday night, in which the Dream were outrebounded and dominated inside.
On Sunday night, she already was trying to make her way back. Following Saturday night's Brazilian win, de Souza and Jardine had to wait for the lone daily flight out of Neiva, Colombia -- a better scenario than when they first arrived in Colombia and were forced to take a seven-hour van ride to the tournament site after missing a flight.
She went from there to the Colombian capital of Bogota and from Bogota to Miami, where she had a six-hour layover before her flight to Minneapolis.
What did she do in Miami for six hours?
"Stretching and coffee," de Souza said.
Was she worried she might not get back in time for Game 2? Yes.
De Souza's jet lag should be minimal considering she traveled south to north, only moving through two time zones. She said she was not feeling the effects on Tuesday.
De Souza acknowledged it was a difficult decision to leave her Atlanta teammates in the middle of a title run, but she understood that her country needed her 6-foot-5 presence on the blocks. An injury prevented de Souza from competing for Brazil in the 2008 Olympics.
"I knew Brazil needed me," said de Souza, adding that she had the support of Meadors and the Atlanta ownership. "They supported me, and knowing that made it easier."
Meadors said she would not deny a player a chance to play for her country.
"It was very tough," the coach said. "But I just have confidence in the other players we had on the court. We went small, and it worked for us. Now we have options again."
Meadors ran her team through practice Tuesday still trying to decide if she would stick with the small lineup she used without de Souza the previous three games, or go back to a bigger, slower, but more formidable inside lineup with the Brazilian star. It may depend on how quickly de Souza acclimates to being in Minneapolis.
"I think she's going to have a little bit of an adjustment," Meadors said. "It took her a long time to get here. She got done on Saturday night and she just got here last night. But knowing her, she's going to go out there and play as hard as she can."