Sunday, April 27, 2014

Celebrating Ticha's big night at the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

Ticha Penicheiro defines it this way. Some people have talent singing; others can draw.

"I could pass the ball," she told an appreciative audience in Portsmouth on Saturday night who came to see Ticha inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

At 39 years old, she looked smashing in a dazzling black dress, rose corsage adorning her right wrist and glittering heels. Was it really nearly 17 years ago that she and the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs created magic of their own by putting together together a run that took them to the NCAA title game in Cincinnati? Number 21 with the bangs made routine blowouts memorable over her four years with a flair and showmanship that no one has matched on the court since.

Since then, Ticha became a WNBA legend -- she retired after a 15-year career that saw her become the all-time assists leader in the league, an All-Decade Team honoree in 2006, a four-time all-star and champion. Her Sacramento Monarchs team won the WNBA title in 2005.

These days playing basketball is behind her. She resides half the year in Gaithersburg, Md., (she prefers her warmer home in Miami), where she is a sports agent to other budding stars -- Maryland's Allyssa Thomas, Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie and Penn State's Maggie Lucas among them. She doesn't miss playing.

"I think I retired at the right time. But I sometimes obsess about it still, watching all the games that I can, men and women," she said. "I'm looking at this as a job for life, though."

She's the kind of agent she would have enjoyed having. In addition to what she did in this country, Ticha had a brilliant international career -- stops included Poland, Russia, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy -- and she recalls, at times, being disappointed when she needed the type of support only a dedicated agent can provide. If problems would arise, she couldn't always get an immediate phone call back. Become her client and she will respond to your issue today, she says.

"I might not get a lot of sleep, but I call back the same day," she said.

Shonda DeBerry, Hamchetou Maiga, Wendy Larry, Ticha, Felecia Allen and Allison Greene.

Supporters in attendance on Saturday included former ODU coach Wendy Larry and assistant Allison Greene along with Shonda DeBerry, Hamchetou Maiga, Felecia Allen, Karen Barefoot, Jim Jarrett, Debbie White and Wood Selig.

It was Greene who "discovered" Ticha as a 16-year-old at the European championships. The mention of America made Ticha eager to get started -- this was, after all, the place where Magic and Michael played. Greene told Ticha she'd have to get a little older, and when Ticha was college age, Greene called back.

"Do you remember me," she asked.

Of course, Ticha remembered. "You're the person who's going to bring me to America," she said. "That's the day my life changed."

Larry and Greene flew to Portugal to meet her and a couple of friends, too. Back in Norfolk, Ticha's recruiting visit included a trip to the beach and a seafood meal. When Ticha asked, "Where do I sign?" Larry handed her her grandmother's pen.

Those friends, Mery Andrade and Clarisse Machanguana, signed too, and oh, what a team those Lady Monarchs were. The CAA was never a contest; they handed Stanford their only two losses of the 1996-97 season and gave Larry her only win over Pat Summitt in front of a thundering Field Hosue crowd. Perhaps they were good enough to give these UConn Huskies a challenge?

"We'd give 'em a game," Ticha said. "They have size, and Breanna Stewart would pose a challenge, but I think Mery could handle her."

As a kid who was given a basketball as a 5-year-old, Ticha dreamed of an NBA career, and she joked on Saturday that had she been able to accomplish that, she'd be sitting on the beach somewhere in retirement given the disparity between WNBA and NBA salaries. She's grateful, she said, that "Young women don't have to aspire to be like Magic or Michael anymore."

Nope. Instead they can aspire to be like Ticha -- Hall-of-Famer.

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