COLUMBIA — Home is a far away place for Denise Rosario. A junior center for the Columbia College women's basketball team, Rosario has had to adjust to the life, the language, the people.
With the season nearing its climax, Rosario has become a force for the Cougars, averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds in her past four games. But there's a part of basketball, her love, that has more weight than Columbia College's 25-3 record. It's the family she's discovered around her and the journey she's undertaken.
Harris Stowe (2-24) at Columbia College (25-3, 13-1)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Arena of Southwell Complex
"I'm just enjoying the good times," Rosario says.
She got the school. She got the team. But Rosario still had many hurdles to clear before it was a perfect world. For one, Rosario's father, Jose Rosario, didn't want her to play sports after high school. Not to mention he didn't exactly want her to leave the country.
"My dad is very conservative," she said with a nervous chuckle. "He has a lot of allegiance to Brazil. He never really agreed to it."
But Rosario's mother Rosa Rosario gave her the guidance she needed to persevere.
"My mom just said, 'Don't worry. It's your goal for yourself. Don't let anything stop you from working towards that.'"
After a while, Rosario's father started to see the good side.
"After a little fighting, he started to see the good in it, in the school, the English," she said. "He sees that I'm doing good here, so he's coming around. My parents saw a game on the Internet, and he really liked it. I think he thought I wouldn't focus on my studies."
But Rosario has already learned to speak English fluently. Although she admits she still has a few problems with the pronunciation of words, it is easy to understand her. She has aspirations to become an elementary school counselor.
Rosario's balance of school and sports could serve as an excellent example for her younger sister, Aline Rosario, who is planning to come to the United States, too. Aline Rosario is a volleyball player in Brazil, and Denise Rosario is trying to recruit her to play at Columbia College.
"I think I definitely am helping my sister out," Rosario said. "They see that I'm doing good here, and they see that I can do this and can make it through, I think that will help my sister when she comes here."
While having her sister in Columbia would be nice, Denise Rosario said she wants her whole family here, even just for a game.
"My parents have actually never seen me play in person before," she said. "They hear about the games on the Internet, and I talk to them every day to update them about how I'm doing and send pictures and everything. But I really want them to come here and watch me play, especially my dad. I want him to come see so bad. That would make my dreams come true."
In the meantime, Rosario has a different kind of family in Columbia, as teammate and senior guard Whitney Widaman explained.
"I think she got to know the people here and she fit right in," Widaman said. "She's such a great person. She makes it easy to like her. Anything you say, she's not going to get upset. I'm really going to miss her next year."
And Rosario definitely feels she is a part of the Columbia College family.
"We're here for each other. Everybody here is just such a great teammate," she said. "I want to play well for them and for the championship. That's the first goal of the team. But even off the court, they really support me even when I get frustrated."
Rosario even claims Davis as a family member.
"Like a dad," Rosario said. "He's helped out a lot. He'll do whatever it takes to have you play your best game. He'll have hard practices, but he'll be like a dad right after."
Davis won't give all the credit to himself, though.
"I think my wife Susan has had a big impact on her," he said. "Just to give her a hug every now and then. There really is a family aspect here. With such a distance from home, Denise has made a lot of different relationships because it's just different for her. But I think she's genuinely happy here."
Rosario's boyfriend, Nick Davis, a baseball player at Central Missouri, is also helping her feel at home.
"He's so funny He's helped with everything. I met him at Crowder, and he's been helping me with tough homework and everything. He's sent from God," Rosario said, smiling ear to ear.
There are also other people around her that are in the same position.
"There's a few volleyball players here at Columbia that are from Brazil, which helped me decide to go here in the first place," Rosario said. "They really made me feel better about coming to Columbia."
Inevitably, the family Rosario has joined will break up. The members will go their separate ways, and Rosario will continue her journey.
"I'm just trying to enjoy myself and have a lot of good times here. Next year, I'm going to be a senior, and that's going to be sad because it's my last year playing, and I love playing basketball. But for now, I'm just enjoying the ride."