Penicheiro came in as the team’s 37-year-old elder stateswoman with a resumé that any WNBA point guard would covet: a member of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All-Time, two All-WNBA First Team selections, a four-time WNBA All-Star and starting point guard for the 2005 WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs. She really didn’t have to prove anything else in 2012, the swan song of her 15-year career, but that didn’t stop her from trying to push the Sky to limits they hadn’t yet reached.
Penicheiro joined Chicago knowing full well that she’d be helping to groom two blossoming stars in Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot. Her goal, she told SLAM Magazine, was to “contribute the best that I can on and off the court, bring it every day to practice, to lead by example, lead in a vocal way, and do whatever coach asks of me.” In fact, Vandersloot, who had previously worn No. 21 on her jersey, gave the number to Penicheiro as a goodwill gesture prior to the season starting. In June, Vandersloot could already tell the wisdom that Penicheiro provided was paying off. “I’m learning a lot from her,” she said then. “I’ve been picking her brain. It’s kind of like having another coach out there.” During that month, Penicheiro had been dealing with nagging Achilles and calf injuries that caused her to miss nine games. So she took to playing the sideline coach with great interest in seeing her teammates improve each game. And she did it with plenty of style, too; Penicheiro could always be spotted on the bench by her catchy outfits which, according to her, may range from “classic to outrageous,” depending on her mood.
The Portugal native had a way of standing out on the court as well. Nobody played the game with more flash as she racked up 39 assists in 2012, bringing her total tally to 2,599 for her career – 600 more than the current second-place player Sue Bird. Despite playing limited minutes in 19 games (starting six of those), Penicheiro’s average of 2.1 assists was fourth-best on the Sky. Her career average of 5.7 assists per game is still the highest average in WNBA history, as is her career-high record of 11 assists in a single game.
The Old Dominion alum who was taken with the second overall pick in the 1998 WNBA Draft by Sacramento also took pride in her defense. Indiana’s Tamika Catchings is No. 1 all-time in steals in the WNBA, but Penicheiro, who cites the NBA’s Jason Kidd and John Stockton as players she admired, is second all-time with 764 steals. And thanks to her veteran decision-making and shot selection, Penicheiro’s field-goal shooting of 35.3 percent in 2012 ranked among the best of her 15 seasons.
But the accomplishment that might get the least attention is Penicheiro’s longevity. Up until this season, she had played in at least 23 games each year and rarely missed more than two in a row. She’s played in 454 games in all, surpassed by only two other players – Tina Thompson and Tangela Smith. Her ironman-like12,979 minutes played in the league ranks fifth all time. “I’ve been very lucky as far as injuries go, but I also think I’ve always taken care of myself,” Penicheiro said. “I have a lot of mileage in these legs but it’s important to stay healthy and do everything you can to be productive.” The injuries finally caught up to her, however, and she knew it was time to call it quits on an otherwise distinguished career. Though she wished she could’ve been out on the floor more to help the Sky earn its first playoff berth, Penicheiro always knew what mattered most. “I’ve really enjoyed the memories I’ve made on the court and the friendships I’ve made off the court,” she said. “It’s not always the winning and the losing, but it’s about the people that you meet.”
Ticha Penicheiro officially announced her retirement from the WNBA on September 19, 2012 and her career was celebrated by a packed house at the Sky’s final game of the season on Saturday September 22, 2012. Penicheiro was introduced for the final time to the Allstate Arena fans all sporting their #TYT (Thank You Ticha) t-shirts that were generously donated by Nike, a long time sponsor of Penicheiro.
Click here to see a history of Penicheiro’s career, photos, video tributes and the final celebration for this WNBA legend.