Santos sisters lead Puerto Rico

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Normally, as residents of Geneva, Ill., and flag-waving U.S. citizens, Ashley and Sidney Santos would be highly interested in, and more-or-less supportive of, Team USA's destined steamrolling of the Western Hemisphere's girl hoopers during the FIBA Americas U18 Championships. Except for Friday night at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where, as representatives of Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, they likely will join the ranks of the steamrolled.

"It's funny," said Ashley Santos, a smooth and powerful, jump-shooting 2012 prospect. "But it's also kind of brutal."

So talented are the Santos sisters, they moonlight on several age levels for Puerto Rico. Last year, as members of its U16 team, they were on the blunt end of a 114-37 thrashing by the U.S. at the Americas Championship in Mexico City. Although Ashley is just 16 and Sidney only a precocious, though 6-foot-1 power at 14, they will escape the further wrath of that particular USA team at the FIBA World Championships in France next month because Puerto Rico didn't qualify, and they therefore are playing up.

Lest anyone bemoan the Santos sisters' trial by homeland thumping, consider that their genes virtually guarantee their status as cornerstones of Puerto Rican national teams for years to come. Their mother, then Lori Findahl, played basketball at Wichita State. Their father, Jose Santos, played for the Puerto Rican national team and in the island's professional leagues, successfully enough that when he phoned home to see what could be in the offing for his daughters, officials almost couldn't believe their good fortune.

"They said, 'Are you kidding?' " Jose Santos recalled. "Bring the girls down here."

While Jose gave his daughters structure and tough love by coaching their club teams, Lori endowed them with their trademark shots. When Ashley was just out of the sixth grade, her mother trained her to raise her point of release. Nature and genetics did the rest, imbuing Ashley with an explosive, 5-11 frame, helping make her one of the few girls her age, anywhere in the world, who can shoot a true (and accurate) jump shot from beyond the 3-point arc.

Sidney doesn't yet match her sister's feathery touch, but she's just out of the eighth grade, and already quite a physical load with advanced ballhandling skills and a knack for bone-rattling screens.

The itinerant sisters broke club ranks for the first time this spring. Jose disbanded the Lady Blazers, so Sidney is headed to the Illinois Lady Lightning, while Ashley will play for ex-NBA player Antonio Davis' Georgia Ice team in the Atlanta area. The team flew Ashley in for weekly weekend practices until she had to join her sister in Puerto Rico for two weeks of trials and training.

The logistics could be mind-numbing for parents who also have a pair of younger boys, but Lori has assembled a big calendar with her daughters' basketball schedules, and she and Jose will split trips. "We'll take it one day at a time," she said.

The national team experience has had the off-the-court effect of also drawing the Santos sisters closer to their Puerto Rican heritage. Because Jose insisted English be spoken at home, their school-learned Spanish was "terrible" until they spent parts of the past two summers in Puerto Rico. Now Ashley and Sidney have learned to love -- and even sing -- Spanish music, including the classic tunes of their father's taste, as well as the likes of reggaet├│n stars Wisin y Yandel.

Such is their connection to the Puerto Rico and its basketball program, when asked how they'd respond if asked by USA Basketball to try out for their country's own national team, both Ashley and Sidney Santos shrugged and pondered.

"It would be a long discussion," Ashley said, finally breaking the deliberation.

But already more worldy than the average teenager, she quickly added, "It has to come up first."

Follow us on Twitter, where you can ask questions and get instant updates.

Become a fan of the site on Facebook and get updates in your news stream.

Discuss this on our Message Board

Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

Follow us on Twitter, where you can ask questions and get instant updates.

Become a fan of the site on Facebook and get updates in your news stream.

Discuss this on our Message Board

Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at lindsay@hoopgurlz.com.