Puerto Rico Always on the Mind of Penzo

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

As the Puerto Rico senior national team begins competition in the FIBA World Cup this week, Oklahoma senior Gileysa Penzo can recognize every player on the court.

This summer, she had the opportunity to share the court with the team, practicing and playing in an exhibition game as part of Puerto Rico’s preparation for the FIBA World Cup that is underway in Tenerife, Spain.

This summer wasn’t the first time Penzo has played for Puerto Rico (she’d previously competed on the territory’s under-16 team during the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Americas championships) but it was the first time she’d played with the senior squad.

Though she was excited about the opportunity, she also felt additional pressure from playing on a larger stage.

“At first I was a little nervous to be the youngest on the court,” Penzo said. “But some words from [Puerto Rico power forward] Yolanda Jones before the game really helped me break out of that shell: she told me that I had the ability to compete at their level, and to be confident in my skills. Coming from her it meant a lot.”

The Puerto Rico national team had a busy summer. After qualifying for the World Cup earlier this year, most members of the team took a break to play for their professional teams. After that, they played in the Central American Games in Colombia, then won the FIBA CentroBasket tournament back home, in Manatí, Puerto Rico.

Penzo said that she was grateful the team’s coaches and players had made the time for her to participate.

“Getting to share the basketball court with all those great players was a dream of mine, and something that I look forward to do again in the future,” Penzo said.

Penzo’s love for her home is well known. After Hurricane Maria struck the island last September and destroyed parts of Casa Montessori del Nino where she attended elementary school, Penzo took action and set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the school.

In a few weeks she met her goal of $5,000 to help the school begin its rebuilding process. For her efforts, the school named re-built outdoor basketball court on Sept. 22 in honor of Penzo and recognized her efforts to help with reconstruction of the facility.

As much as she herself is a role model, Penzo still admires to the women she got to share the court with this summer and representing her home.

Putting on the jersey of the Puerto Rican national team this summer after the trials the territory has gone through in the last year added special meaning for Penzo. She hopes to continue to see women’s basketball grow back home.

“Women’s basketball is growing and gaining more respect from fans,” Penzo said. “When I first started to play basketball, I played with boys, because the women’s side was nearly nonexistent. I [first] had the opportunity to play with girls when I was twelve years old. It fills me with joy every time I go home to see those little 5-year-old girls playing the game that I love, and having stands filled with parents and fans proud to be there.”

As for the future, Penzo looks to build off a breakout season a year ago after leading the Sooners in assists in 2017-18. She hopes her play can inspire other players back in Puerto Rico to pursue the dream of playing college basketball. Penzo also wants to play a role on the national team in the future.

“I believe that the amount of love and support that women’s basketball has been getting is due to the work that the senior team has done over the years,” Penzo said. “I still look up to those women, and I hope that one day I can be a part of something as special that.”

She’s well on her way.