Huskies guard Viana opening doors for Portuguese basketball players in USPORTS

Saskatchewan star used weight regime to increase pro chances

Claudia Viana during practice at USPORTS Final 8
Claudia Viana during Saskatchewan's last practice of the 2021-2022 season. This was her last year with the team, and they placed fifth at nationals. Her team won the Canada West title to qualify for nationals. (Matias Bueno) 

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

Saskatchewan Huskies guard Claudia Viana had a very different experience with training when she played at home in Portugal.

“I had never gone to the gym before, so a lot of my strength came from just bodyweight exercises that we used to do as a team,” Viana said, at the Women’s National Champhionships, last weekend. “When I went to the U.K. it was my first time going and properly lifting with the team and so in the initial phase, I was very sore.”

Viana, 23, has become accustomed to change in her career, travelling from Lisbon in Portugal to Leicester in the UK, to Saskatoon, in pursuit of her next challenge in basketball.

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

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

“My sister went into tennis, which I tried for a bit too, but I preferred soccer and basketball. I then decided on basketball because I think that was the only sport that I entered out of high school into a club where I was like, ‘OK, I could do this competitively.’ ”

Viana is planning on a small break from the basketball journey back home in Portugal, before taking a shot at pro.

Football, or soccer if you will, is the most popular sport in Portugal and with a world-class talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, kids in the country grow up mesmerized by his style of play.

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

Patrícia Nunes (Ticha) Penicheiro, was not only the first-ever Portuguese-born player drafted into the WNBA, but she was the first to be drafted into either of the major basketball leagues. Penicheiro was taken second overall in 1998 by the Sacramento Monarchs.

“She is a legend,” Viana said.

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

Her entry into the league also blazed a path the next year for two of her former college teammates from Old Dominion, who also shared Portuguese roots.

Clarisse Machanguana, who was born in Mozambique only a year after the country declared independence from Portugal, was drafted 16th overall by the Los Angeles Sparks. Mery Andrade, who was born in Cape Verde half a year after its independence from Portugal, was taken seven spots later by the Cleveland Rockers.

Portugal’s relevance in the American basketball landscape has continued to grow since the trio came onto the scene.

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

“When I first started it was very rare for a player to go study abroad and get scholarships to the 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 on the women’s Portuguese team that were offered scholarships to go play in the States, and then it kind of grew more each year after the European Championships.”

Now Viana is looking to continue this trend in Canada.

The first Portuguese-born female basketball players ever to play in U SPORTS were Ana Caldeira Rua and Carolina Gonçalves, who played for the University of Brock and University of Regina respectively. They both entered U SPORTS in the 2017-2018 season.

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

“A lot of older players paved that path and made me realize 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.”

“Hopefully playing here has increased awareness for younger players to be motivated and not give up on their dream if they don’t make it to America because I think that [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 about 11 million people in Canadian university basketball and it is something they take pride in.

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

About this article

Posted: Apr 7 2022 1:56 pm
Filed under: Amateur Basketball College Sports