She bounced into our hearts, and now, she's here to stay.
Patricia Nunes "Ticha" Penicheiro, the retired Sacramento Monarchs All-Star basketball player, was one of 1,200 people sworn in as U.S. citizens Wednesday morning at the Sacramento Convention Center.
Trading her uniform for high heels and black pants, Penicheiro, who stands 5 foot 11 inches tall, smiled as she took the Oath of Allegiance.
"Today's a very special day for me because I became a U.S. citizen," she told the crowd.
Born in Figueira da Foz, Portugal - a coastal town north of Lisbon - Penicheiro, 38, started playing basketball in her teens. At age 19, she was awarded a scholarship to play at Old Dominion University in Virginia.
From there, her career took off. She joined the Monarchs in 1998 as a rookie and the following year, the point guard was selected as a WNBA first team player. Penicheiro was named as an All-Star four times in her pro career. She is the league's all-time leader in assists and second in steals. In 2005, Penicheiro led the Monarchs to the WNBA championship.
A year later, she was inducted into the Old Dominion University Hall of Fame.
"She really had a natural flair," said Jerry Reynolds, who drafted Penicheiro when he was the Monarchs' general manager.
After the team folded in 2009, Penicheiro went on to play for the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky, before retiring last year.
"It had always been my dream to come to the United States - the land where basketball was invented," she said after the ceremony in an interview.
Penicheiro's parents, who both live in Portugal, flew in to watch their daughter become a U.S. citizen.
"She loves America as much as she loves Portugal," said her mother, Helena Penicheiro.
The path to citizenship wasn't easy for the basketball All-Star. Like anyone else who applies for citizenship, Penicheiro had to jump through some hoops, including an interview and civics test.
"I felt like I was back in school again," she said. "I was stressed out, even though I was pretty much American."
At Wednesday's ceremony, 89 countries were represented, including Romania, Fiji and Mongolia. In the Sacramento region, 38,000 people claim Portuguese ancestry.
Penicheiro said what she likes best about America is the "liberty and opportunity."
For Jason Lupas, from the Philippines, who also became a citizen Wednesday, "the freedom to choose whatever you believe" is what drew him to the country.
"It's amazing how open people are here," the 20-year-old Tracy resident said.
Penicheiro owns a home in Sacramento and plans to spend the rest of her life in the United States. Despite her retirement, she isn't planning to leave basketball anytime soon. Her first order of business after obtaining citizenship: launch a sports recruitment agency.
"It's a new chapter of my life," she said. "I'm now Portuguese American."