International Women's Day: The Los Angeles Sparks' Ticha Penicheiro

Portugal native Ticha Penicheiro discusses the presence of women's basketball on the international scene
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Ticha Penicheiro returns to Los Angeles in 2011 for her second season with the Sparks and 14th in the league. Prior to joining L.A. in 2010, Penicheiro spent 12 seasons with the Sacramento Moncarchs, including a championship run in 2005. The Portugal native is currently playing overseas back home, although as you'll see from the Q&A below, home is where the hoop is.

How would you describe the basketball scene in Portugal while you were growing up?

Soccer has always been the main sport in Portugal , but I grew up in a small town where basketball was bigger than soccer. I used to play in the playground where I constantly had to prove the boys that I was a girl that could play. Slowly I started to get accepted and eventually was picked first!!

Were there any Portuguese players you looked up to?

Unfortunately there were some talented Portuguese women players, but I never got to watch them play. Back then, there were no games on TV and there was no Internet. But, my favorite Portuguese male player was Carlos Lisboa. He played for Benfica.

Currently, what is the overall interest for basketball in Portugal ?

Soccer still dominates the country and the media, but I can tell that I see a growth in the level of play since the last time I played here (back in 1998). I feel like the women's league is more competitive and the players are more skilled, which consequently generates a higher interest.

Would you say you're a hometown hero to the women's basketball scene in Portugal ?

Well, I don't like to "toot my own horn," but I would say that I am pretty big in Portugal. Portugal is a very small country, so people have followed my career pretty close. I still remember when I won the WNBA championship with the Sacramento Monarchs back in 2005. I was on the cover of every magazine, newspaper, on every channel and even participated in talk shows. Now that I'm back to play here, I can definitely say that the buzz is back. I'm also very proud of being Portuguese and to represent my country in the WNBA!

For some, the offseason is a time when players go overseas to play, but instead you have a chance to go home. Do you perceive the WNBA as your overseas season? Or has the U.S. more or less become home at this point in your career?

I have been in the U.S. since 1994, so I am pretty "Americanized" by now. Of course when I'm in the States I miss my family and friends, but when I'm away from the States there are a lot of things that I miss too. This year being back in Portugal has given me a chance to play in front of my childhood friends and meet up with people that I haven't seen in a long time, but this summer I'll be back in America. So I guess I'm blessed because I have the best of both worlds!