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A Totally Cool California Dude : Brazil's De Lima Has Adapted, and Now Aims for Water Polo Scholarship


VENTURA — Pedro de Lima has mastered the art of blending in with most of the student body at Ventura College.

For a 19-year-old from Brazil who had never visited California before last year, it was not easy.

De Lima came to California to play water polo and refine his English. He took a crash course in "American culture" from his new pals.

He switched from eating black beans and rice to burgers, tacos and pizza. He even picked up the slang often used by young Californians, and now regularly uses phrases such as "dude," "cool" and "totally."

One day last week he wore the traditional American college uniform to school: denim overalls, tennis shoes and a T-shirt. Before a water polo team practice, he joked around in a pickup soccer game.

"Get it, dude," De Lima said with an accent. "Get the ball, man. Come on, man."

Just another college sophomore goofing off with his friends.

Thing is, no matter how "Americanized" he becomes, De Lima will always stand out once he hits the water.

He and his longtime Brazilian buddy, Alexandre Martins, have made quite an impact in junior college water polo.

De Lima and Martins, a 21-year-old freshman, lead the sixth-ranked Pirates in scoring. De Lima ranks No. 1 in the state with 68 goals and Martins is fourth with 51.

In 1993, De Lima led the state with 162 goals and was named an All-American. He helped Ventura finish ninth in California and second in the Western State Conference with a 23-11-1 mark.

"And he's not a ball hog at all," sophomore driver Mike Pharaon said. "He's a team player. He'll pass it to you any time. He just helps us in so many ways."

At 6-feet and 203 pounds, De Lima is a powerful athlete who perfected his passing game because he often is double-teamed.

"He's also real smart and real good on the transition," Valley Coach Bill Krauss said. "You could tell he's very experienced and you could tell he's played internationally. He plays at a different level than most kids here."

De Lima started playing water polo in his native Sao Paulo at the age of 12 and first got the idea of competing in the United States after meeting a coach from a Southern California junior college at a junior national team event in Brazil.

Three days before classes started at Ventura College in the fall of 1993, De Lima moved to the United States.

"I didn't know a thing about him," Pirate Coach Larry Baratte said. "I met him the first day of practice. . . . When I saw him play I could tell right away he was real good."

When De Lima came home for Christmas, Martins expressed interest in playing at Ventura. The two had competed together on a popular Sao Paulo club team called Paineiras and kept in touch after De Lima moved to California.

"In Brazil water polo is big," De Lima said. "For national championship games we'd get about 1,000 people and it's like soccer games where the people are totally screaming and jumping real wild. . . . It's not like that here, but I still love it here."

De Lima says playing with Martins again has boosted his performance. He believes the reunion has also helped him relax in matches.

"Like last year, people didn't know how I play," de Lima said. "They didn't know my style. Alex, we know each other so well. I know him better than my teammates. And he knows me and what I'm going to do on certain plays. We're a lot alike."

There are differences, however, in their long-term goals. De Lima hopes to earn a college scholarship and possibly remain in the country after obtaining a business degree.

Several four-year colleges in the East already have expressed interest. Among them, De Lima says, are the University of Massachusetts and Queens College.

"I don't know about living in the snow," De Lima said. "But I think it could be a good experience. Besides, I'll still be in the (United States) and school will be free . . . hopefully."

Martins admits he moved to Ventura to improve his English and plans to return to Brazil at the end of the school year. He will go back to his job at a local bank and finish college in Sao Paulo.

Martins has no desire to become a "typical American college student" like his good friend. He's too busy counting the days before he can return home for good.

De Lima, on the other hand, will continue absorbing American culture and striving to earn a college scholarship in order to extend his visit in the United States.

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