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From Brazil to the WNBA: Kamilla Cardoso’s Inspiring Journey

Kamilla Cardoso is heading to the Chicago Sky to continue her basketball career.


With the third pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, the Chicago Sky selected Kamilla Cardoso from the University of South Carolina. Raised in Montes Claros, Brazil, Cardoso began her basketball journey when her older sister’s coach suggested she give the game a go. She quickly rose through the ranks in middle school ball, dominating in tournaments and developing her skills. Soon, the 6-foot-5 teenager started to get noticed. With her height and potential, agents recommended that she play in another city or country.


Just days after celebrating her 15th birthday, Cardoso said goodbye to her friends and family as she boarded a flight to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Awaiting her arrival was Keisha Hunt, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy’s women’s basketball coach, who had a strong track record in developing players' talents. Cardoso faced many challenges coming to the US, struggling to adapt to a foreign culture and learn the English language (of which she only knew three words) while also transitioning to her new school’s style of play.

The opponents Cardoso faced in the US brought new levels of physicality to the court. To help her adjust, her teammates stepped in and called out plays in Portuguese, merging her old and new basketball worlds. After months of training, Cardoso began to find her rhythm both on and off the court. Living with Hunt’s family and three of her teammates from Nigeria gave her a home away from home. Using Google Translate to communicate, they learned about each other through cultural exchange and ultimately became a family.


It wasn’t long before Cardoso's obvious talents earned her the attention of college coaches, who made sure to express their interest to Hunt. A five-star recruit in the class of 2020, she was the nation’s fifth-best prospect according to ESPN’s recruit rankings. Cardoso signed with Syracuse out of high school, but transferred to the University of South Carolina before the 2021-22 season. Playing for the legendary Dawn Staley, a coach known for developing post players, turned out to be perfect for the 6-foot-7 Cardoso. At South Carolina, she blossomed into one of the nation’s top players. 


In her debut season with the Gamecocks, Cardoso wasted no time making her mark. She ranked ninth in the SEC for blocks, led the team twice in rebounding, and posted two double-doubles. In South Carolina’s NCAA tournament win over Miami, she contributed three three-point plays, proving early on that she was a force to be reckoned with. Cardoso also made history with the Gamecocks as part of the first team in program history to be ranked No. 1 in both the AP and USA Today polls every week of the season, and helped secure the program's second national championship. 


In her junior season, Cardoso tied for first in rebounding and second in scoring for the Gamecocks during the SEC tournament. She earned All-SEC second team honors and a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-America honorable mention. Additionally, Cardoso ranked second in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game and led her team to the Final Four. It was another exceptional year for her – and she still hadn’t reached the peak of her epic collegiate career.


Cardoso’s senior season was where the magic really happened. She was named an All-American and Defensive Player of the Year by the WBCA and made the All-SEC first team. During the NCAA tournament, she was unstoppable, scoring double figures each game and averaging 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds.


Two notable performances came late in the tournament. Despite suffering an injury in the Gamecocks’ Final Four matchup against NC State, Cardoso finished the game with a team-leading 22 points and 11 additional rebounds. Facing Iowa in the championship game, she continued her stellar run with 15 points and 17 rebounds, recording her 28th double double of the season. She also showcased her defensive prowess, blocking three shots – the 14th time this season that she put up three or more blocks in a game. Her impressive overall performance in the championship earned her the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.


Having been part of the first team in program history to complete an undefeated season and become the national champion, Kamilla Cardoso left South Carolina a two-time champion with a mountain of accolades. What a remarkable way to end her collegiate career and kick off her professional one! Cardoso’s long journey from Brazil to the WNBA is proof that, with enough dedication, no goal is ever out of reach.

 

Edited by Ella Chang

Social media content created by Daryl Batt

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