Starting at point guard for the Columbia College basketball team, senior Henrique Medeiros relies on communicating with his teammates on and off the floor to succeed.
Playing defense during a 3-on-3 drill Tuesday at the Arena of Southwell Complex, Medeiros was particularly vocal with his defensive counterparts.
“Ball! Ball! Ball!” he would yell. “Screen! Switch!”
For those who have conversed with Medeiros, it is hard to believe that just four short years ago he barely spoke any English at all.
“If you didn’t put Brazil in the roster, where he is from, and you just watched him operate or visited with him or hung out with him, you wouldn’t even know,” Cougars head coach Bob Burchard said of Medeiros' transition from Portuguese to English. “He’s made the transition so well he could be from Brazil, Indiana.”
Growing up in Joinville, Brazil, Medeiros naturally spoke Portuguese, the native language of Brazil, and was exposed to little English during his childhood.
“I took classes when I was nine years old so I knew the sound of the letters and stuff, but that’s about it,” he said.
However, Medeiros was forced to learn English on the fly when he came to America in 2007 to play collegiate basketball at Marshalltown Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa. He took English as a Second Language course, which taught him how to read, write and speak English.
Medeiros learned how to speak English quickly, and he was able to hold conversations after only a few months of the language classes. He said this helped out immensely on the basketball court, where learning to communicate verbally with his teammates and coaches was vital to his success.
“In college we had 16 or 17 kids from Brazil in Marshalltown, so I would speak Portuguese a lot,” Medeiros said. “But on the basketball court I would only speak English, because my basketball team spoke only English, so I had no way out, it was only English, English, English.”
Strangely enough, learning English may have never been an issue for Medeiros if not for a decision he made when he was 16.
Medeiros grew up playing the most popular sport in Brazil — soccer. However, when he became a teenager he was encouraged to play basketball because of his speed. He took to the sport very quickly and was soon the best player on his club team.
One day Medeiros had a scheduling conflict: He had both a soccer and basketball game scheduled on the same day at the same time. He chose to go to the basketball game, and, from that point forward, he focused on basketball.
Medeiros’ decision turned out to be a good one, as he was offered a spot to play basketball at Marshalltown just a few years later.
After two years at Marshalltown, Medeiros received a call from Bob Burchard, head coach at a place called Columbia College in a town called Columbia, Mo.
“He called me one day on my phone, and I was like who are you, I have no idea who you are, I have never even heard about you,” Medeiros said.
Burchard convinced Medeiros to come to Columbia College to visit the campus and, after Burchard offered Medeiros a spot on the team, he soon decided that playing for the Cougars would be a good fit for him.
“The campus is small, but it’s nice,” Medeiros said. “The small classes helped me out a lot (with the language barrier).”
Columbia’s proximity to Marshalltown was also an added bonus to Medeiros, who became very close to the host family he lived with while attending Marshalltown. Being approximately five hours away from Marshalltown by car, he is able to visit them occasionally when he gets the chance.
As Medeiros' collegiate playing days wind down and he gets ready to graduate with a degree in finance and management at the end of the calendar year, he has started to think about life after graduation.
Medeiros has been contacted by a professional league in Brazil about playing basketball after graduation, a possibility that intrigues Medeiros.
However, if basketball does not work out, Medeiros is interested in moving back home to Joinville, where he would like to become a banker. There, he could put the English skills he acquired in the United States to good use.
“(In Brazil) I can do transactions and do stuff with American banks in English,” Medeiros said.