Like he does every time there’s basketball news to share with his far-flung parents and siblings, Tim Soares pulled out his phone, input his message and hit send.
The missive went to Stephanie, the younger sister who has dunked in practice while starring for The Master’s University in Santa Clarita and won a gold medal with the Brazilian women’s national team at the Pan-Am Games last summer.
It went to Susan and Rogerio, the parents who both played college basketball and bequeathed their impeccable shooting form to their offspring.
It also went to Jessica, another younger sister who plays for Master’s, and Tiago, a junior guard at Santa Clarita Christian School who intends on following the pitter-patter of family footsteps to Master’s.
This text to the family group chat made Tim chuckle amid uneasy times. Stephanie, a sophomore center, had just been selected NAIA Division I player of the year on Thursday, but the photo the school sent out accompanying the news release depicted her with what Tim thought was a slightly awkward expression.
“It was a funny picture of her, so I had to make fun of her,” said Tim, a senior forward at Master’s and second-team NAIA All-American. “I can’t make fun of her in anything else, you know?”
Certainly not when it comes to basketball. Stephanie is a 6-foot-6 blend of brawn and precision who had powered Master’s to a school-record 29 victories and a No. 2 seeding in the NAIA women’s tournament alongside Jessica, a junior reserve beset by knee and shoulder injuries.
Tim, a 6-10 bruiser gifted with a sharpshooter’s touch, had averaged 18.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while helping the Mustangs (23-8) secure a No. 5 seeding in the NAIA men’s tournament.
On March 12, Tim needed to pull out that phone for far more unsettling news. Less than a week before the tournaments were set to begin, Master’s on the verge of what felt like a dual dose of history, helet everyone know that it was over. The rest of the season had been canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Said Stephanie: “It was really disappointing because we had such a great team.”
Said Jessica: “I was really sad.”
Said Tim: “A week later is kind of when it hit me. It’s still hitting me kind of slowly and makes me sad, but I have to keep moving on now.”
For Tim, it wasn’t just the end of a season but a college career in which he had become the school’s all-time leader with 272 blocks and a three-time Golden State Athletic Conference defensive player of the year. Stephanie’s 324 blocks in only two seasons have already put her atop the school’s all-time list. She led the nation this season in blocks (4.9 per game) and rebounds (13.6) and was second in scoring (20.7).
With their basketball seasons over and their spring classes set to be held online, the siblings dispersed. While Tim headed to Damascus, Ore., to be with his fiancée ahead of their planned May wedding, Stephanie, Jessica and Tiago traveled to Bellingham, Wash., to be with their aunt and uncle.
That left Susan and Rogerio, Christian missionaries based in Sao Paulo, to fret about their children’s well-being even more than usual.
“We’re all just praying and asking God for wisdom on what to do now with the virus and just deciding if we should come back,” Susan said by telephone from her home in Brazil. “It seems like we can still travel for a while, so we’re trying to make some decisions on that. It is a little bit hard, but we’re just thankful for FaceTime.”
Susan and Rogerio met in Sao Paolo through Athletes in Action, a basketball ministry that allowed them to share their love of Jesus Christ. Susan had been a center-power forward at Texas and Rogerio would eventually play at Master’s. They remained friends for years while Susan played professionally before dating and marrying, though the attraction was immediate.
“He said that he wanted to learn English from my mom,” Tim cracked of his father, “but she was the only blond lady, so I don’t buy it.”
The Soares reared their children in a campus setting in Sao Paolo as part of their missionary work, Susan herding them onto the facility’s three basketball courts and Rogerio refusing to allow them to shoot on a mini-hoop until they showed perfect form.
The siblings were slight in stature in their formative years, which is ironic considering that Tim and Stephanie are among the biggest players on their respective teams. The delayed growth allowed them to develop a guard’s skill set early on that they can now pair with superior size. Lakers assistant coach Mike Penberthy, the all-time leading scorer at Master’s, has helped Tim perfect his shooting touch.
“It’s kind of been different people through the years,” Susan said, “just kind of impacting the kids to help them in different areas.”
There is presumably more basketball left to play. Tim hopes to snag an NBA summer league invitation and his sisters have more college games ahead. Jessica is waiting for Stephanie to dunk in a game after she shocked her teammates in practice by elevating the ball over the rim.
“I’m like, Stephanie, in a game, just rock the rim,” Jessica said.
That would send the siblings back to their phones once more, letting everyone know the good news.