Huskies keep Viana opening doors for Portuguese basketball players at USPORTS

KINGSTON, Ont. — Weightlifting became a staple of basketball training in North America in the 1990s when Michael Jordan incorporated it into his training routine.

Saskatchewan Huskies guard Claudia Viana had a very different practice experience when playing at home in Portugal.

“I had never been to the gym before, so a lot of my strength was just from the bodyweight exercises that we used to do as a team,” Viana said at the Women’s National Championships over the weekend. end last. “When I went to the UK it was the first time I was going and lifting properly with the team and so in the initial phase I was in a lot of pain.”

Viana, 23, has made a habit of change in his career, traveling from Lisbon in Portugal to Leicester in the UK to Saskatoon in pursuit of his next basketball challenge.

She’s been with the Huskies for two years and now, after her final USPORTS season (Saskatchewan went 2-1 in Kingston and finished fifth), Viana has had some time to reflect on her journey as a player.

“When I was 11, that’s when I joined my club team, Quinta dos Lombos,” Viana said. “My mum was a professional ballerina, so when my sister and I were younger we were signed up for ballet lessons. We told our mom it wasn’t for us, so she let my sister and I choose our sports.

“My sister started tennis, which I tried a bit too, but I preferred football and basketball. Then I opted for basketball because I think it was the only sport I liked. practiced after high school at a club where I was like, ‘OK, I could do this competitively.’”

Viana plans to take a little break from the basketball trip back to Portugal, before trying his luck at the pros.

Football, or football if you will, is the most popular sport in Portugal and with world-class talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, the country’s children grow up fascinated by his style of play.

Viana was certainly among them, however, she also looked up to another sports star who led Portuguese basketball to a breakthrough.

Patrícia Nunes (Ticha) Penicheiro, was not only the very first player of Portuguese origin to be drafted into the WNBA, but she was the first to be drafted into one of the major basketball leagues. Penicheiro was ranked second overall in 1998 by the Sacramento Monarchs.

“He’s a legend,” Viana said.

Penicheiro was a seven-time assist leader, four-time all-star, two-time WNBA first-team member and a WNBA champion with the Monarchs in 2005, the pinnacle of her career and a shining moment for the Portuguese basketball.

His entry into the league also paved the way the following year for two of his former Old Dominion college teammates, who also shared Portuguese roots.

Clarisse Macanguana, who was born in Mozambique just a year after the country declared independence from Portugal, was drafted 16th overall by the Los Angeles Sparks. Mery Andrade, born in Cape Verde six months after its independence from Portugal, was taken seven places later by the Cleveland Rockers.

Portugal’s relevance in the American basketball landscape has only grown since the trio burst onto the scene.

Viana believes they had a huge impact on the popularity of basketball in the country.

“When I started, it was very rare for a player to go study abroad and get scholarships in the United States,” she said. “I don’t think we had any players in Canada at that time, and then it started to grow slowly.

“There were one or two players from the Portuguese women’s team who were offered scholarships to play in the United States, and then it increased every year after the European Championships.

Now, Viana is looking to continue this trend in Canada.

The first Portuguese-born female basketball players to play in U SPORTS were Ana Caldeira Rua and Carolina Gonçalves, who played for Brock University and the University of Regina respectively. They both signed up for U SPORTS in the 2017-18 season.

Gonçalves is a former teammate of Viana at Quinta dos Lombos and the impact of her time with Regina changed Viana’s perspective on basketball in North America.

“A lot of older players paved that way and made me realize that it’s possible to go play away from home and have that experience,” Viana said. “I think being here will also inspire other girls to realize that they don’t just need to focus on the United States.”

“I hope playing here educated young players to be motivated and not give up on their dream if they don’t make it to America because I think [U SPORTS] would be a great option for them if they still wanted to have that experience.

The other is Ricardo Neves of the Nipissing University Lakers men’s team.

Both players are trailblazers for a nation of approximately 11 million people in Canadian college basketball and that’s something they’re proud of.

“We are small, but Portugal is everywhere,” Neves said. “There are a lot of Portuguese communities in Canada, which I was not aware of before.

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