Penicheiro has the right kind of mileage for Sky

Updated 5/11/2012 5:15 PM

The Chicago Sky will be going back to the old way of doing things.

No, not "that" old way. At least, we hope not.


Let's just say it's a new "old way."

The Sky opens the 2012 season Friday in Washington against the Mystics and has no intention of perpetuating its status as the only WNBA franchise to have never made the playoffs.

Instead, the plan is to go old school this summer to turn over a new postseason leaf.

In February, a month after trading for 11-year forward Swin Cash and 9-year forward Le'coe Willingham, and just weeks after signing 10-year center Ruth Riley, the Sky signed veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro, who will celebrate her 38th birthday during the last week of the WNBA season, her 15th in the league.

Penicheiro, who was contemplating retirement from basketball but was courted hard by at least five teams over the off-season, may have considerable mileage on her wheels, but she still has some gas in the tank.

And the Sky will take it.

Among all the intriguing changes the Sky made in the off-season, this one could be the most important. After all, good point guards usually make for good teams.

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"Don't be fooled by her age," Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman said earlier this week. "She's one of the top 15 players in the history of the game, and she still can play."

After leading the WNBA in turnovers last summer with two young guards in Courtney Vandersloot and Epiphanny Prince, the Sky could use a seasoned presence at point guard. And Penicheiro is certainly seasoned, and proven.

Known for her unselfishness and amazing court vision, she holds the WNBA career assists record at 2,560. She held the steals title (756) until being passed last season by former Stevenson star and Indiana forward Tamika Catchings.

Penicheiro's credentials on paper are nearly unmatchable, and the intangibles she brings can't be overstated. She has been a respected leader on every team she's ever been on, and she is more than equipped to be the mentor Vandersloot and Prince need.


"My role will be a lot of things coming in as a veteran, a leader and a point guard. I think I can help a lot with my experience," said the 5-foot-11 Penicheiro, a native of Portugal who has been in the United States since joining the basketball team at Old Dominion University as a freshman in 1994.

"I'm here to do whatever is asked of me. But my job goes beyond the court. It goes off the court, which is when I try to lead by example and be a big sister to some of the other guards, like Piph and Courtney in particular. I'm very motherly, thoughtful and caring. I've gotten to know them more as people, and to me that's very important because it will make it easier to communicate with them and to help them."

The young guns say she already has been a big help even though she's been here barely more than a week.

She's been talking to Vandersloot and Prince about everything from handling offenses and pressure defenses to how to take care of themselves off the court.

A strict fitness regimen has helped Penicheiro weather 15 years of WNBA basketball plus more seasons of playing overseas in the winter.

"I grew up watching her play and I just have so much respect for her," Vandersloot said of Penicheiro. "She understands the game so well. It just comes naturally to her, and I love that. She's gifted and she's fun to play with. It's fun to learn from someone like her.

"Right away, she told me that I need to be more vocal. She's actually pretty quiet. She's not going to be the one out there yelling. But if there's stopped play, or if we're on the sidelines, she's always talking, making suggestions, working things out.

"I'm learning from Ticha that I don't always have to be the loudest. But players look to their point guards (for input and direction) and I've got to be ready for that."

Penicheiro says the Sky is ready for the playoffs. She's played for plenty of successful teams over the years, including the 2005 WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs as well as the men's club teams that her father coached in Portugal when she was a young teen, and she can recognize a team with the necessary pieces in place.

"I want to think this is the year for the Sky," Penicheiro said. "The acquisitions made over the off-season were really good and I think we have what it takes. We have talent at every position. We have leadership and people who enjoy each other on and off the court. If we stay healthy, I think we have what it takes to make the playoffs."

Local layoff:

The Sky announced Friday that fourth-year forward and Naperville native Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was cut from the training camp roster.

She played in 29 games last season for the Sky, averaging 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-2 Wisdom-Hylton, who attended Neuqua Valley High School, spent her first two years in the league playing for the Los Angeles Sparks with high school friend and Naperville Central rival Candace Parker.

The Sky's 14-player roster needs to be cut to 11 by the season opener against Washington.

Getting started:

The Northwestern women's lacrosse team begins its quest for a seventh national title in the last eight years when the Wildcats (17-2) host Notre Dame on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Lakeside Field in Evanston.

• Patricia Babcock McGraw covers the WNBA for the Daily Herald and also serves as a color commentator for Chicago Sky broadcasts.

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