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Chasing the dream

Freshman forward Tulio Da Silva has led the Bulls in rebounding so far, averaging seven per game, with no one else averaging more than four. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Tulio Da Silva would not let anything deter him from achieving his dreams.

Faced with a new country, new language, and new culture, the 6-foot-7 native of Brazil left everything he knew behind and moved to the United States, chasing his dream of playing college basketball.

Before coming to USF, Da Silva moved to Jacksonville for his senior year of high school, in hopes of gaining more attention from American universities. 

Moving alone, and without knowing a word of English, Da Silva struggled with academics.

“It was pretty different,” Da Silva said, still not completely fluent with the language. “I had to learn how to speak English. I had a lot of problems trying to understand people.”

Despite the language barrier in the classroom, the soft-spoken Da Silva expressed himself on the court with no issue, bringing national attention to the small private school where he played his senior season.

Despite the school’s small size, just 400 students, it wasn’t hard to see why Da Silva chose Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville. 

Nationally known for its men’s basketball program, the school won five consecutive state titles from 2005-2009, and was regularly ranked in the USA Today top-25 rankings of the best high school teams.

Recruited by former USF coach Orlando Antigua, Da Silva’s dreams became reality on Nov. 18, 2015, when he signed his letter of intent to play basketball at USF. 

However, before Da Silva was throwing down dunks in the Sun Dome, he would have to overcome a year of adversity in his first year as a Bull.

Deemed academically ineligible due to poor grades in high school ahead of the 2015-2016 season, Da Silva could practice with the team, but could not play in any games his entire first year as a Bull.

Following his signing, Da Silva, a 4-star recruit according to ESPN, was expected to provide an immediate spark for the struggling Bulls who were coming off of a last place finish in the AAC the season before his arrival.

But the spark would have to wait.

Despite having no game minutes, Da Silva said that taking last year off was good for him, and better prepared him for the years to come. 

“I think last year was a good year for me to sit down, and learn,” Da Silva said. “Last year was good for me to watch how all of the other players practiced, and worked, so I could be even better this year.”

In his year of ineligibility, Da Silva built a particular bond with Penn State transfer, Geno Thorpe, as they were both redshirted in order to extend their NCAA eligibility. 

Thorpe, having transferred from another Division I school for his junior year, was also forced to sit the 2015-2016 season. 

“We spent a lot of time in practice together,” Thorpe said. “We built a little extra relationship last year, more than most.”

After both Thorpe and Da Silva regained their eligibility for the 2016-2017 season, they are thriving for the Bulls.

Thorpe leads the team in both assists and scoring, while Da Silva is third in scoring, and leads in rebounding.

 Still considered a freshman, the reserved Da Silva carries himself, and performs like a veteran player would – setting the tempo on the boards no matter who he is up against.

“The way Tulio plays, you wouldn’t think he’s a freshman,” Thorpe said. “He’s real mature.”

Interim coach Murry Bartow agreed, and said that the team needs to do more to get Da Silva the ball.

“We have got to do a better job of getting him the ball, and getting him more touches because he’s a heck of an athlete,” Bartow said. “He’s got great energy, a great motor, and is obviously a key part of the team.”

While his play on the court continues to develop, Da Silva’s personality around his teammates continues to grow along with it.

Silent and reserved at press conferences, Da Silva can be found jumping, dunking, and laughing all around after practices, looking like a totally different man.

“He’s a nice young guy, and has good personality,” Bartow said. “Maybe around other people he’s maybe not as vocal, but around the teammates and the staff he’s got great personality.”

In a season filled with disappointment for USF (7-19, 1-14), the play of Da Silva is a small bright spot for the Bulls moving forward. 

With his future in mind, Da Silva looks to keep up his good work both on the court, as well as in the classroom for his years to come as a Bull.

“I want both,” Da Silva said. “I want to get my college degree, and I want to go pro.”