Helen Simoes and Erica Zurauskaite both moved to the United States for the opportunity to play college basketball. This week, both Hamilton Heights players' dreams were realized.
Zurauskaite has pledged to play for Young Harris (Ga.) College, and Simoes signed Thursday to continue her career at Truett-McConnell in Cleveland, Ga.
Hamilton Heights went 26-8 and won the National Association of Christian Athletes championship.
Zurauskaite, who averaged nine points and 12.8 rebounds for the Lady Hawks, is a 6-foot-2 post from Kaunas, Lithuania, who was recruited by Arkansas among other NCAA Division I schools but fell short on her ACT due to reading comprehension.
"In the beginning, it was hard for me to play here. The rules are a lot different, so I had to learn how to play American ball," she said. "I was in foul trouble a lot in the first few games because you can't go over the back here, but it's not against the rules in Europe.
"I think I've learned how to play physical here and can do pretty well in college."
Simoes, a 5-foot-6 point guard from Minas Gerais Varginha, Brazil, averaged a team-high 15.9 points with 5.3 assists and 4.8 steals a game this past season. She is a sometimes chippy, always hard-nosed player on the court -- very different from her real-life persona, she and Hamilton Heights headmaster Duke Stone agreed.
"It's a good feeling to get a chance to play in college," Simoes said, "because when you're an international player, it's a dream to come play in the United States because the opportunity is better for a job. This team adapted this year and played for each other.
"I'm going to college to play basketball, but that's not all it's about. I ... have to think about other parts of my life. I want a degree."
She and Zurauskaite both are interested in physical therapy.