Larry also sees the value in points scored, which is why she is insisting that Penicheiro shoot more this year. "I have always looked to shoot as my last option," says Penicheiro, who is averaging 11.5 points a game. "I don't have a lot of confidence in my outside shot."
Indeed, for all her other blessings, Penicheiro has never been the pure shooter that Paulo and her father, João, are. João, now 56 and a youth-league coach as well as a human resources director at a Portuguese paper mill, had perfect shooting form as a star player for clubs in Coimbra and Figueira da Foz in the 1960s. "He had this move," says Paulo. "He'd put the ball between his legs, then lake an over-the-shoulder pass and finally shoot. That wowed everyone back then."
Ticha may not have inherited João's perfect form—"Her hand placement is kind of weird," says Larry—but she certainly got the wow. Old Dominion assistant coach Allison Greene, a former Dartmouth star, spotted it on the first play of Greene's first game for the Portuguese club team Amadora, seven years ago. Amadora's opponent was the junior national team, whose 15-year-old point guard was the skinny, short-haired Penicheiro. "She made a no-look pass that took my breath away," says Greene. After the two teams met again, Penicheiro told Greene of her dream of playing in the U.S. A few years later, after she had been hired by the Lady Monarchs, Greene remembered Penicheiro and encouraged Larry to take a look. Larry, properly wowed, proceeded to woo.
Penicheiro wasn't a hard sell. On her recruiting visit, she fell in love with the campus. "It was 15 minutes from the beach," she says, "just like home." She signed on immediately and convinced Machanguana to join her. Mery Andrade, a national teammate of Penicheiro's from Lisbon, followed the next year and is now a junior averaging 14.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.
Penicheiro expected to feel homesick but never has. Her parents visit once a year, and over this season's Christmas break Penicheiro and her teammates will get to visit them in return. The team left on Sunday for a 10-day exhibition tour of France and Portugal. Her parents also keep in touch by following her games on the Internet and by sending Ticha clippings about her exploits from the pages of Portugal's three national sports dailies. Interest in women's basketball, which has long lagged far behind soccer, men's basketball and team handball in Portuguese affections, has increased with Old Dominion's success. But some of the home folks still wonder what the big deal is. The small articles about Penicheiro's games usually feature her name in the headlines, but the things she does best—passing and stealing—never make it into the box scores. "In Portugal, the papers just list points after a player's name," she says. "If you scored more than 20, it's considered good. If you didn't, you must have had a bad game."
By Portuguese newspaper standards, Penicheiro hasn't had a good game yet this year—her high game is 17—but she's having another banner season. Though she suffered a few moments of horror in the season opener when an Illinois opponent fell on her and caused Penicheiro to twist her ankle, the gamble she took last spring when she decided to stay at ODU for a fourth year instead of turning professional seems to be paying off.
"As I saw it, I had two good options," says Penicheiro. "I decided to stay because I want to increase my education and work on my game. And we didn't win the NCAA title. This year it will be harder to get there, but I still have that dream."