Ticha Penicheiro might be one of the big stars in WNBA history. But in Portugal, she’s a myth. That’s why her coming to play in Algés (Portuguese Women's League) this season changed almost everything in Portuguese women's basketball. For good and bad.
Algés made a high bid this season, with a project lead by Javier Murrugaren, a Spanish entrepreneur that owns a marketing agency. Their project was to create a big team in women's basketball that could lead them to play in European competitions and try to make it in the Spanish League. Of course, Spain is one of the biggest markets in European basketball. They had two teams in the Euroleague Final Four and has a National Team that fights for winning Eurobasket.
As for Portugal, the reality is totally different. All three teams that played in the Eurocup (second to Euroleague), lost every game they played, and the National Team doesn’t even make it to Eurobasket. Since Ticha Penicheiro went to play at Old Dominion, we never had her playing in Portugal again, as she spent her European seasons in Poland, Russia or Italy. The mere idea of having her in Portugal was something nobody believed.
For Algés the season didn’t start well, with some losses in the League and the same happening in Eurocup, even if they had in the team players like Angelica Robinson (who would be at the Mystics training camp) and other experienced players like Ana Oliveira, Matea Vrdoljak or Joana Fogaça. So, when December came and Ticha was presented as the new Algés signing, media in Portugal just went nuts! Women's basketball started to have pages in national sports newspapers, games begun to be televised and people start to full most of the seats in Algés games. All of the sudden, women's basketball was trendy in Portugal. And Ticha Penicheiro had it all on her back.
She had an amazing season in Portugal. She finished first in assists, third in steals and tenth in rebound rankings. She was eighth in the MVP race (all stats combined), even though she had played only about half of the games in the league. She took Algés to two Cup finals (Federation and Portuguese), losing it to Quinta dos Lombos, an impressive young team who became Algés’ worst nightmare. The team also reached the semi-finals without Angélica Robinson, their best player in the paint who had left to start preparing to Mystics’ training camp. But money problems made Javier Murrugaren leave the project and it is unsure to say what will happen to this team next season.
Nobody has the smallest doubt about the value Ticha Penicheiro added to the Portuguese League this year. All the media attention made the game and other players the best known in the country. For instance, Paula Muxiri, who also attended Old Dominion, passed from being a total unknown to be the player everybody expects great things from. In a small country like Portugal, all this means a lot to everyone involved in basketball.
But now we know that even the biggest myths step down as humans. We saw Ticha losing. We expected her to be not only the great player and person she is, but also to win all the titles with Algés’s shirt, no matter the value of her team. In the semi-finals, Algés was knocked out by CAB Madeira, and we prepare ourselves to see her in WNBA again with the Sparks. Some of us still dream to see Portugal in Eurobasket, with Ticha Penicheiro leading the team. But the truth is that when the national team makes it (and it will, taking in the young prospects we have), Ticha Penicheiro will be just like another one of us, a fan in the stands, shouting "Defense!"