"Monarch For Life" - Ticha Penicheiro
June 25, 2008
Ten years after being drafted into the WNBA, Ticha Penicheiro remains what she has always been: a Monarch.
The former Old Dominion Lady Monarch is not just any Sacramento Monarch, though; she's the face of the franchise. Drafted second overall in 1998, Penicheiro donned the purple Sacramento uniform with her same college No. 21 back then. And in the U.S., she's never put on another.
She has outlasted four Sacramento coaches and the loss of the franchise's other "face" - Yolanda Griffith, now with Seattle - to become a legend on the team she led to a championship in 2005.
"When I first got to the WNBA, I wondered how my body would hold up; even the league was still a question mark," Penicheiro, 33, said as she relaxed after a shoot-around before last week's game against the Washington Mystics.
"When I first got there, Sacramento was like a home to me. Everyone in the organization, all the way from the owners to the janitors, I love everybody - the city, the fans. I cannot see myself playing anywhere else. Every year I'm a free agent, teams knock on the door. I just can't do it."
The WNBA isn't overflowing with true point guards who have Penicheiro's pedigree. The former ODU All-American and Wade Trophy winner is the league's all-time assist leader, ranks second in WNBA history for steals and fifth for total minutes played. She has started all but three games of her career.
The same flash and trickery with the ball that Lady Monarch fans remember make Penicheiro a favorite in Sacramento. There, she is simply "Tee-sha!" Her high-octane style is an ideal fit for first-year coach Jenny Boucek.
"Since I was 11 or 12, I was watching Ticha on commercials and her fancy passes," said teammate Laura Harper, a rookie. "I remember in college, she had her own identity. No one played like her. She played like a guy - almost like a Globetrotter."
Basketball has afforded Penicheiro to be just that: a globe-trotter of a different sort. Between WNBA seasons, she has played in Russia, Spain, Italy, France, Poland and Latvia. The opportunities are lucrative overseas, where she can demand more than her $95,000 pro salary - the WNBA maximum.
And while no place has replaced her native Portugal as home - Penicheiro has been charting that country's Euro Cup progress throughout the event - she owns a 2,900-square-foot home in Sacramento. A Mercedes-Benz XL 500 and a Range Rover are parked in the driveway.
"They're a little impractical as far as gas," she said, referring to California's $4.60-per-gallon prices. "I'll have to get a scooter when I get back."
Last year was the first offseason she didn't play overseas. Instead, she had left elbow surgery. The break allowed her the opportunity to start her own camp last December, which attracted 55 kids.
"I put it all together myself," she said. "It was all on me. It was my baby from the beginning, to getting the coaches, volunteers, concession stand and bringing in the kids."
The hiatus from international ball also allowed Penicheiro to come into this WNBA season fresher. A knock on her game has been her inconsistent scoring. The 5-foot-11 guard has never shot as high as 40 percent from the field. This year, without Griffith, she is called on to score more than ever.
"Because I didn't play this offseason, I really took the time to work on my game," Penicheiro said. "Jenny and I worked out every day. So many shots; it was incredible. I worked on my technique. To me, maybe my technique wasn't great or my form wasn't great, but it was all mental. I would miss my first couple shots and get tentative. I've worked really hard to overcome that, and I think I have."
Against New York a few weeks ago, she scored a season-high 18 points. She averages 9.6 a game and last Saturday, against Los Angeles, she amassed her 2,000th career point.
Boucek, a former Virginia guard, couldn't be more in sync with the guard she actually played against in the 1996 NCAA tournament.
"There's no other point guard in the world I would ever have," Boucek said. "She's so mature. I've never, ever, in all my years of WNBA, seen anybody with a higher IQ."
Boucek had to buy Penicheiro dinner after the Lady Monarchs beat Virginia to advance to the Sweet 16 of last season's tournament.
"She had on her ODU stuff; I had on my Virginia stuff," Boucek said. "We were both hoarse at the end of the game."
Penicheiro isn't sure when all the basketball fun will end, though she's weighing her options.
At one time, broadcasting was high on her list, but she's strongly considering becoming an agent.
"I feel like there's not enough women out there to represent women," she said. "I feel like I can really help, not just basketball-wise, but in life. I have a lot to offer in being from Europe."
Penicheiro occasionally visits Norfolk, where her best friend, former ODU manager Felecia Allen, lives. Last summer, Penicheiro surprised ODU coach Wendy Larry by popping unannounced into her office
"That's my heart right there, what opened all the doors," she said. "I cheer hard when I watch them play. I check the scores online. I'm a Monarch for life - not just because of Sacramento but because of Old Dominion, too."
Vicki L. Friedman, (757) 477-6874, VickiL120@cox.net