Ticha Penicheiro Q&A – Sacramento Monarchs
A native of Portugal, Ticha Penicheiro made her mark in the United States as a flashy point guard for Old Dominion. Chosen by the Sacramento Monarchs as the second overall draft pick in 1998, the 27-year-old has led the WNBA in assists every season she’s played. This year, after a midseason coaching change saw Assistant Coach Maura McHugh take over from Sonny Allen, Penicheiro guided the Monarchs to their second playoff appearance in as many years.
WB: What was McHugh’s impact when she became coach?
Ticha Penicheiro: I just felt Maura was way more intense than Sonny. We could always see that when he was the Head Coach and she was the Assistant. We called it “Fire and Ice.” Sonny was really laid back, and everything was cool. But with Maura, everything was intense. When she came in, we knew it was time to go to work. It was like we were back in training camp.
For as me, personally, she talked more to me. I like it when coaches criticize me – for the good or for the bad. I think Sonny didn’t know how players would react when he smiled or when he yelled. As a coach, you have to know that on a team with twelve players, you’re going to have different personalities. You have to approach each athlete in a different way. Maura did that very well. She knew who she could yell at. Or, she knew if she was mad at a player she [might] have to get it across in a different way — after practice, after the game, maybe in a different tone. She had been the assistant coach for a while, and sometimes, when you sit back and watch, you see how the head coach reacts and the players reactions.
WB: Though you’ve led the League in assists every year, there are voices that say. “You have to shoot more.” How do they affect you?
TP: I go through a roller coaster. Some days I feel, I’m a good passer, I have great teammates, and what I do best is get my teammates involved. You don’t tell (league leading scorer) Katie Smith to pass the ball. You tell her to shoot because that’s what she does best. So, you tell me to pass the ball because that’s what I do best.
Now, can I be a better if I combine both things: shooting and passing? No doubt. I’ll be the first one to admit I can hurt the team if I don’t score. It was obvious [in the playoffs] against LA, the way they played me — they backed off. In Game Two I was making [shots] and it hurt them — we won by twenty. In Game Three I didn’t make any and we didn’t win. That’s a mental thing. It’s got to come from me and nobody else. I have to be ready to shoot and make baskets in order for this team to win and in order for [opponents] to play me honest. Of course, I’m going to work on it in the off-season – I work on it every day.
WB: What was different for Sacramento in this year’s playoffs?
TP: We were more experienced. Hopefully that will continue and we can get to the goal of winning the Championship. We have gone farther every year. This year, we happened to play Utah, which is a great, great team with a lot of talent, but they had never been in that situation before. We had that playoff experience and we were able to beat them 2 and 0. Then, of course, we advanced to play LA and we had never been in that situation, and they had. Sometimes it’s a matter of experience. I feel we’ve gained experience and chemistry.
WB: How much of the playoff loss to LA do you carry into the off-season?
TP: Right away it was very frustrating. It was like, “We could have won,” and “We should have one.” If, if, if…. But now, we have to look back realistically and realize we had a great season. We played well. We gave LA a scare. But you know, they deserved to win. There’s no doubt. The way they played in the regular season. Their intensity in the playoffs. The way Lisa Leslie played…. Hands down, they were the Champions this season. We gave them a scare, but in Game 3, when it was time to play, we couldn’t. They deserved to win. That’s all you can say.
A native of Portugal, Ticha Penicheiro made her mark in the United States as a flashy point guard for Old Dominion University. Chosen by the Sacramento Monarchs in 1998 as the second overall draft pick, the 27-year-old has led the WNBA in assists every season she’s played. This season, Penicheiro guided the Monarchs to their second playoff appearances in as many years. As many players do, she balances her playing time between Europe and the United States, and plans to play in Italy this off-season.
WB: When you were drafted you spoke about how excited you were to join the League. Has the experience met your expectations?
Ticha Penicheiro: It’s exceeded my expectations. In 1997, I was able to be a spectator on my couch and just watch the league start. You really felt the fans were in to it. There were big, big crowds. But it’s different when you’re watching it on your couch and when you’re actually playing. You feel the vibe coming and the love they have for you. Not only as a player, but also as a person.
WB: It’s understandable why Americans enjoy playing in the States — what do European players get out of it?
TP: I cannot speak for every other foreign player, but to me, it is the best league in the world. You play with the best players, you play against the best players, so if you are part of the best, you want to play in the best league. In Europe there’s money and good competition, but there is no doubt in my mind that if I had to make a choice between Europe or the WNBA I would stay in the WNBA. The fans, the training facilities, the gyms, the doctors…everything is better.
WB: To what do you attribute your unusually quick and smooth transition from a college to a professional point guard?
TP: To be a point guard you have to be a leader and make sure your teammates respect you in that way. You have to make the bridge between the coaches and the players. I think I was so used to that role in Old Dominion. It was very comfortable for me. Of course, that goes to having great teammates and awesome coaches. You cannot be a good leader if you do not have good listeners, and you cannot be a communicator if people don’t respect you or give you feedback.
I had a great coach in Wendy Larry and great teammates at ODU. Going into Sacramento I found the same thing. Great teammates and great coaches that respected me for what I had done. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself from scratch. I feel like they already respected me. That just helped me with my confidence.
I was the first player drafted for Sacramento, a team that had struggled. It was a very young team with a very young coach, so I felt a little pressure. I felt like the league and the Sacramento community gave me a lot of attention. I was on the cover of the media guide, little things that now I look back and go “Wow, I can’t believe they did all that for me.” It just showed they were expecting a lot from me. I just had to go back and work hard to show them that I deserved it.
WB: On European teams, there’s a lot of pressure on the Americans to score 25 points a game or else they’re gone…
TP: Oh, yeah, that’s true. (Laughs) But I’m not an American.
WB: How’s it different for you?
TP: In the States, you sit down with your coach and talk: what is the team’s goal, what is your goal as a point guard. What I want you to do, what I expect from you, what you expect from yourself…. Here, you don’t really have any talks with your coaches. The main thing is to win. If you lose, the sponsors are going to stop giving you money, and there’s going to be trouble. They don’t care how it happens, they just want to know if we win, we’re okay. I think my role is going to be to make sure we’re run the offense. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. I’m playing with two great players in Yolanda [Griffith] and Delisha [Milton, LA Sparks], and I’m very excited about that.
WB: Will it be odd being Delisha’s teammate after losing to Los Angeles in the Playoffs?
TP: It was so funny… I just emailed her, and I was like, “I really don’t want to say this but congratulations on your WNBA Championship.” (Laughs) Delisha is one of those players that if you’re on her team you love to play with her, but if you’re against her, you hate her. (Laughs) She’s so feisty. Of course, everyone knows her nickname is “Nasty D.” And she does play dirty, but that’s the warrior in her. You can’t be upset. I respect that in a player. I want to play with the people who have the heart and are fighters. And Delisha is probably number one on my list. So I’m very excited about the possibility of playing with her versus against her.
WB: People are pushing you to take more shots, though traditionally a point guard is the passer. How difficult is that mental shift?
TP: Your body’s like a computer. It’s so used to doing certain things sometimes it’s automatic. When you’ve been for 18 years playing a certain way, it’s so hard to change in a week or a month. But you have to be mentally tough. The game and the coaches and your teammates and other players are going to bring you challenges, and it’s up to you and your mental toughness to respond in a good way. It’s like life. You have to find ways to be strong in a positive way. Try to find positives out of negatives.
WB: Have you considered trying a position other than point guard?
TP: Two years ago I had the experience. I was playing in Poland, and my coach put me at the 3 position. I was so uncomfortable. It wasn’t me. There would be rebound and I’d be right there for the outlet instead of running the fast break. He was requiring me to be more of a scorer and run the lanes, but that is not what I like. I want the ball in my hands. I want to make the decisions… I was so out of place. It was funny, because when I got to the States, Maura said, “I was watching when you played some team from Slovakia and I was like, I thought this was Ticha’s team but I could not see you. And then I saw you running the lane and I thought, ‘What is she doing?'” (Laughs)