Barbosa Feeling at Home in NBA
By Juliana Gutierrez,
Posted: Oct. 10, 2003
“Saudade” is a special Brazilian expression. For those who don’t speak Portuguese, the word simply means homesick. But for Leandro Mateus Barbosa, his new life in the NBA has a very different meaning.
Every day when he arrives at America West Arena, he carries with him a huge smile on his face, his own unique and personal stamp. It’s a child-like expression that he can’t hide and one that reveals the joy he’s feeling while living out his dream of playing in the NBA.
“I am very happy in Phoenix, not only for being here with this team but also because I’m part of the best basketball league in the world, among the best players, many of whom have been my idols for years,” the first Brazilian in Suns history said through an interpreter. “Also, I have the opportunity to work doing what I most enjoy in my life: being a basketball player.”
“Leandrihno,” or Little Leandro, first arrived for his new job in Phoenix on June 27, a day after he was selected by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 NBA Draft (29th overall) and traded to the Suns for a future first-round pick. He was introduced to the local media during a press conference in the Suns’ locker room and was presented with his new jersey, embroidered with the NBA’s official logo, his name and his new No. 10.
“When I came, they made me feel as part of the family,” he recalled. “Everyone was very special with me. On those first days I experienced the NBA life, the organization and everything that means to be part of the best league in the world. To me it is an honor and also a responsibility.”
One of the first teammates that welcomed Barbosa was Amaré Stoudemire, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, only a year removed himself from his introductory press conference.
“I met him as soon as I came to Phoenix,” said the 6-3 guard. “He was working out at the gym during his vacation. He was cool with me and since then he’s trying to make me feel at home.”
It will probably be some time before Barbosa feels completely at home, having left his country and life behind in Brazil. The change has been radical. Leandro lived in Sao Paulo, a city much bigger than Phoenix with approximately 15 million people. But he is becoming more and more comfortable all the time.
“To be honest, every day I enjoy being here,” he said. “Phoenix is a great and special city with nice places to know. I haven’t had much time to hang around, but I love this place.
“I don’t feel like a foreigner in this town. I can spend time with my brother, eat similar foods as in Brazil and every single day I’m finding new things that make me feel like I’m at home.”
In addition to his family, Leandro has found two friendly voices in his new country. The first one is Zarko Cabarkapa, the Suns’ other rookie, who was his roommate during the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league in July.
“I met him some time ago when we played with our national teams. He was with Serbia & Montenegro and I was with Brazil,” said Barbosa. “We get along together. We have things in common and as rookies we are sharing the new life of NBA players.”
Barbosa’s second new friend in the States lives in Denver, where the Suns played Thursday night. Each day, his cell phone receives an amicable call from Nene, the Nuggets’ second-year star, who has been sharing his experiences and advice with his fellow Brazilian.
‘We talk every day,” said Barbosa, who will play against Nene's Nuggets again Saturday night, this time in the Valley. “He’s aware of me and my new life in Phoenix. He has been a great support during my days in the U.S. I’m very happy to have him around, as a friend and colleague.”
Joining a playoff team in Phoenix – one that boasts an All-Star and All-NBA player in Stephon Marbury at the point guard spot – Barbosa doesn’t expect to come in and have the same success or statistics that Nene did with the Nuggets a year ago. But he is confident in his abilities and his future in the league.
The 20-year-old was a member of the Brazilian National Team that competed in the Tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico this summer. Although his team did not qualify for the 2004 Olympics, Barbosa gained valuable experience playing against high level competition, including the likes of Jason Kidd (USA) and Steve Nash (Canada).
“It was a great experience. Every time I was on or off the court, I had the chance to learn a lot,” he said. “It was an interesting tournament and it was just cool to play against the U.S. team and other NBA players. We couldn’t get a place in the Olympics, but I really enjoyed my time in Puerto Rico.” Today, Barbosa is enjoying his time in training for his first NBA season. He has already impressed Head Coach Frank Johnson, as well as Marbury, who said this week that his young teammate could be a future star in the league. In the meantime, though, he has a lot of work ahead of him.
“The practices have been interesting,” he said. “Although they are severe and sometimes hard, you enjoy it because you are learning every time. It’s definitely different in comparison with the trainings in Brazil. My first impressions are that everything here is faster, the plays, assists, dribbling, everything. But with time everything will be easier for me.”
Although the Suns’ coaches are specific in their directions, carefully explaining every play and defining his role, Barbosa knows that a firmer grasp of the English language will make everything even easier for him.
“I’m taking English classes and I understand a lot,” he said. “I feel confidence in my learning process and it will take time to gain knowledge of the basics. Basically for now, I need to understand the plays and coach’s directions, other things come with time.”
The next time Suns.com talks with Leandro we will talk about soccer, his love of movies and more about his adjustment to the NBA. For now, though, he is all smiles as he enjoys his new life. For him, the word “Saudade” is not allowed.