- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Ticha Penicheiro didn't need to play another WNBA season. Her legacy in the league is secure.
Penicheiro won a championship with the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005 and has been an All-Star four times. She is the WNBA's all-time assists leader and ranks second in steals. She was voted one of the league's top 15 players of all time last year. She has played in 436 WNBA games.
Penicheiro could have retired at 37 with no stone left unturned. She was certainly thinking about it.
But then Pokey Chatman called and asked Penicheiro to sign with the Chicago Sky.
"We were on the same page, we wanted the same things," Penicheiro said. "I felt very connected with her."
Chatman, the Sky's second-year coach, wanted a veteran guard to shepherd her young point guard, Courtney Vandersloot. She said she needed leadership as she tried to assemble a team to make the franchise's first playoff run.
Penicheiro wants to wring out the last days of her career at a place where she can mentor, and win.
"It was a perfect fit for me," Penicheiro said. "I want to help this team with my experiences to make the playoffs."
Chatman said Penicheiro "has been a winner wherever she's played."
"I needed a strong, championship-winning personality," Chatman said.
She also needed something of a den mother. Penicheiro is already calling herself the "team mama."
In her 15th WNBA season -- only Seattle's Tina Thompson has logged more seasons in the league -- Penicheiro won't be playing the same kind of minutes she played a few seasons ago. In the Sky's season-opening win over Washington, she played just more than three minutes. She averaged 23.7 minutes a game last season in Los Angeles, starting 23 games.
"It's a long season," Penicheiro said. "But if I didn't feel like I could still play, I wouldn't be here. I want to play. I can contribute on the court and off the court, too."
Vandersloot, in her second WNBA season after becoming a breakout star at Gonzaga, is already comfortable under Penicheiro's wing.
"It's been great to have her out there," Vandersloot said. "It helps you feeling a little more comfortable and she's always looking to help. I can go to her if I have a quick question, or to pick her brain."
Penicheiro spent the first 12 seasons of her career as the stalwart franchise player of the Monarchs. When the Monarchs folded, she strongly considered retiring before signing for two seasons with the Sparks.
Penicheiro joked that her body talks to her.
"My mind feels the same, I feel a lot of joy and I enjoy competing at the highest level, but my body doesn't feel the way it did when I was 25 of 27," Penicheiro said. "I have always been allergic to the training room. I have never been a good patient and I've tried to avoid it. But you have to pay more attention to little things than you used to."
Penicheiro acknowledged that she already knows this "might" be her last season.
"I keep telling my friends, 'This is my last year,'" Penicheiro said. "Now they just say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' Nobody believes me anymore."
But this really, truly could be it for one of the greatest players in the league's history.
"I want to enjoy this as much as I can," Penicheiro said. "I don't want to play until the wheels fall off.
"But this is an amazing job and I've been blessed to be a part of the WNBA. I never thought basketball would have given me this much joy."