By Scott Mammoser
When asked if newly-elected Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Ticha Penicheiro served as an inspiration, Joana Alves didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I feel like everybody in Portugal looks up to her a lot,” said Alves, who is a 6-foot-3 junior center at Seattle University. “Obviously, she was the first athlete we had going into such a big venue for basketball.”
Penicheiro, best remembered for her 12 seasons with the Sacramento Monarchs, will be enshrined on June 8 in Knoxville, Tenn. Alves is scoring a team-high 13 points per game and grabbing five rebounds for the Redhawks, who open the WAC Tournament as the No. 7 seed on March 13.
“We aspire for her because she is so approachable,” added the Lisbon native Alves. “I remember when after the WNBA, she came back to Portugal to play, and she was the most sensational teammate, from what I heard. She would always be willing to let young players learn from her, watch her, talk to her. Everything an idol should be, she is, and even more, now that she is going into the Hall of Fame.”
Born in Figueira da Foz, about midway between Lisbon and Porto on the coast, Penicheiro was the daughter of a coach and a standout at Old Dominion from 1994 to 1998. She retired after the 2012 season with the Chicago Sky as the WNBA’s career assists leader – a record she held until Sue Bird passed her in 2017.
“She really opened the door for us that it’s possible to come to America and do this,” Alves said. “Basketball is an American sport, and some young females in Portugal feel intimidated by it because it’s not such a big thing back home. But I feel like she opened a lot of doors for us to come and play in college and go further.”
Alves represented Portugal at the Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 levels.
“It’s amazing, being able to play against the best of the best from other countries,” Alves said of her national team experience. “It shows that the sky is the limit. You can be the best in your country, but when you can play the best of the other countries, it just ups your game so much. It just helped me with everything, ball handling, even social skills. The fact that you can go and play the sport you love is truly amazing.”