Ticha Penicheiro is many things: WNBA Top 15 Player of All Time, Portuguese ambassador, champion, team mom.
Now that she’s on board with the Chicago Sky for the 2012 season – her 15th season in the league – Penicheiro can add another title to her resume: “Ironwoman.”
At 37 years young, the Portugal native has weathered 14 years of knee-pounding, strong-arming physical play since she was drafted by the Sacramento Monarchs (No. 2 overall) back in 1998. Penicheiro rarely misses a game, having played in at least 23 contests each season. So what’s her secret?
“I've been very lucky as far as injuries, but I also think I've always taken care of myself,” she said. “You know, eating right, getting enough sleep – all the things that sound cliché, but they’re all true. I have a lot of mileage in these legs, but it's important to stay healthy and do everything you can to continue to be productive.”
Penicheiro comes to the Midwest as part of a revamped Sky team with a unique mixture of veterans and youngsters that intrigued her, declaring Chicago “the perfect fit.” Though she’s one of six newcomers, Penicheiro expects her role as a sage veteran with a mother’s intuition to remain the same. “I try to be the mama,” she said, smiling. “I'm very caring and nurturing by nature. If I see something that I can help with, whether it's on the court or off the court, I'm always there for my teammates.”
Penicheiro is eager to work with rising stars Courtney Vandersloot and Epiphanny Prince in order to take the Sky to the playoffs for the first time in team history. After helping the Monarchs to the team’s only championship in 2005, Penicheiro knows what it takes. “A lot of us have to learn a whole new system and learn how to play with each other,” she said. “We're slowly bringing everybody in, but I'm hoping by the start of the season, we'll all be on the same page.”
Whether it’s her positive disposition, consummate professionalism, or her unselfish, pass-first mentality, teammates seem to love playing with the WNBA’s all-time assists and steals leader. If given the choice to make a highlight-reel layup or to split the defenders with a perfect pass to her teammate for the assist, she’ll take the assist 10 times out of 10. Especially now that she has a pair of Olympians on her side in Sylvia Fowles and fellow newcomer Swin Cash. “I'm an old-school point guard; I prefer to pass and get my teammates involved,” Penicheiro said. “There were a couple seasons where I really had to score in order for us to win, but I'm in a position where I can just decide, 'Do I want to go to Sylvia or Swin or Piph?' They make my job easier.”
Penicheiro admits she might not have another 14 years of WNBA action left in the tank, but she plans to play as long as her will to win – and her body – holds up. When she finally does decide to hang up the sneakers, she’ll likely go down as the greatest player – in any league – to come out of Portugal. “Of course we have big soccer stars, but as far as basketball, I must be one in a million,” she said, laughing. “I know my country supports me and they're proud of me and I'm very proud of being Portuguese, so I am here representing my country and I love that.”
Penicheiro eventually plans to return to her homeland and share her love of the game with other youth who are in the same position she found herself 30 years ago. “I was a little girl from Portugal who didn't really have any aspirations of playing professional basketball,” Penicheiro said. “I came a long way. The WNBA is the best league in the world, the most competitive.
”I've really enjoyed the memories I've made on the court and the friendships I've made off the court,” she added. “Everything in my career has given me more than I could have ever, ever dreamed of.”