At World Cup, Puerto Rico hopes to lift spirits back home

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Spain (AP) -- Puerto Rico guard Dayshalee Salaman remembers huddling with her family in her grandmother's house as the wind from Hurricane Maria howled outside.

For 12 hours they sat and prayed that the storm would spare them. They made it through relatively unscathed. One of her cousins lost a house when the roof was ripped off.

Salaman knows that many other Puerto Ricans weren't so lucky when the storm hit on Sept. 20, 2017. An estimated 2,975 people died in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, according to Puerto Rico's governor.

''I'm blessed and glad that my family was OK and that I was able to help other families that went through a lot,'' she said. ''A lot of people lost everything and it was hard to see.''

A year later, Salaman and her Puerto Rican teammates hope that their first trip to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup can help lift spirits on an island still recovering from a storm that caused more than an estimated $100 billion in damage.

''It's a big accomplishment for our country and we're really proud of it,'' she said. ''We just want to win one game. It's huge to be here and something we'll remember forever.''

Puerto Rico had a tough start to the tournament, scoring six points in the first half of a loss to Belgium. It missed 19 of its first 20 shots in that game. The team had a much better effort against Spain on Sunday, leading the host nation for most of the first half before losing.

Its last chance for a win comes Tuesday against Japan.

''This is big no matter what the score is. It would mean a lot,'' Salaman said of a victory. ''It would bring people together and bring happiness to get the island to believe in us.''

Teammate Jennifer O'Neill, who was born and raised in New York and played at Kentucky, echoed Salaman's sentiments.

''Sports has no boundaries, no language, it's something that brings people together,'' she said. ''Right now Puerto Rico is at a time of adversity and we hopefully can bring people closer and rise together.''

Salaman and her teammates have heard President Donald Trump's assertion that the U.S. government response to the hurricane was ''an incredible, unsung success.''

They are disappointed but know many Americans don't share his opinion.

''People know it's pretty bad,'' Salaman said.


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