Kamilla Cardoso [1296x729]
Kamilla Cardoso [1296x729] (Credit: THIAGO GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

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When 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso enters the WNBA -- likely as a top five pick after Monday's draft -- she will face a new challenge, in coming up against the world's best players on a regular basis.

Outside the college game with the South Carolina Gamecocks, Cardoso has proven her ability with the Brazil national team under José Neto - including against the college coach who would later help her become one of the most sought-after prospects in women's basketball.

On June 19, 2021, Dawn Staley and Cardoso crossed paths as competitors on the court for the first time. A month and a half earlier, Cardoso had transferred to South Carolina from Syracuse, where she spent her freshman season.

However, on this particular day, Staley and Cardoso were adversaries as Neto's Brazil looked to plot a path past Staley's USA in the FIBA AmeriCup semi-finals.

Ultimately, the USA won 71-60, but Cardoso proved to be undaunted by the occasion - putting in a huge shift on defense. Of her 10 rebounds on the day, eight were defensive rebounds.

According to Neto, it is no accident that Cardoso is entering the WNBA as a player considered ready for a seamless transition from college basketball to the professional game. Rather, her success is a result of young players deliberately being exposed to international camps with Brazil's established WNBA stars.

Neto explained how Cardoso's Brazil career shaped her: "I started as head coach of Brazil in 2019 and Kamilla played with us in 2021. When she played for us for the first time in the AmeriCup when it was played in Puerto Rico. We finished third and lost the semi-finals against the US. This team was coached by Dawn Staley.

"After that, Kamilla went to South Carolina, so I believe that the first time that Kamilla played with us in the AmeriCup against the US, Coach Staley looked at Kamilla and said: 'Oh, ok. I think that she can play.'"

Although Cardoso had already been recruited by South Carolina at that point, what is indisputable is that her performance at the AmeriCup helped her stock rise.

"In this team, when we finished in third and beat Canada, Kamilla played very well, but the US won the title [and] beat Puerto Rico. Kamilla played for the first time for Brazil in 2021 and played great and after that, Kamilla played all the tournaments that we played," Neto continued.

"After AmeriCup, we played World Cup qualifying [for the 2022 tournament] in Serbia and Kamilla finished with the five best players in the tournament. After that, we won the South American and Kamilla was MVP. Last year, we played and won the AmeriCup - beat the US twice - and Kamilla was MVP of this tournament."

Brazil is no stranger to having players in the WNBA, and Cardoso is far from the only high-level prospect, thanks to national team veterans guiding them along.

Neto paid tribute to the senior players who aided Cardoso's development, saying: "A player who has played in the national team and helped Kamilla a lot is Érika de Souza.

"Érika played for [10] years in the WNBA and won a title at the first [attempt] with the Sparks. Then, Erika went to Atlanta and played eight more seasons. Erika helps Kamilla a lot in the national team."

De Souza went on to play two more seasons in the WNBA for the Chicago Sky and the San Antonio Stars.

"Another one who has played [recent] seasons in the WNBA - Damiris Dantas - who has played with us in the national team, I think helps Kamilla a lot," Neto continued, also paying tribute to Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Janeth Arcain for paving the way for Brazilian players to succeed in the WNBA.

Like Arcain, who won four titles with the Houston Comets, Neto believes that Cardoso can not only hold her own in the WNBA, but become a star.

"Kamilla, in my opinion, can be dominant in the WNBA," he said. "Because she played against great players in the FIBA tournaments and played great against these tournaments, so I believe Kamilla can be [a] big player in the WNBA."

Neto also believes there are more who are likely to reach the highest level in the coming years - including 16-year-old point guard Micaela Cavalcanti and 18-year-old power forward Manuella Alves.

"Kamila is a major part of the National Team for sure, she's taken on a protagonist role in these last competitions and will continue to do so hopefully for a long time," Neto said.

"We want to mix experienced players and new talent on the National Team. Other players are starting to shine, like Manuella Alves, who's only [18] and is still in high school.

"We've got Micaela Cavalcanti playing in Brazil now but will eventually make her way to the US very soon. She's only 16 but with great potential too. We're also keeping an eye on some other players in order to blend the established experience and the promising youth."