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Ventura County

Basketball-Playing Sisters Get a Shot at Their Dream

August 27, 2001|CARRI KARUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Teresa and Michelle Palmisano used to shoot hoops in the driveway of their parents' Ventura home, dreaming about the day they would play on the same professional basketball team.

The girls became stars of their high school basketball teams, eventually earning full athletic scholarships to college, where they were all-Americans.

Teresa went on to play professional basketball for various teams in Europe, scoring 42 points in one game. Michelle, the valedictorian of her high school graduating class, went on to seek her PhD in bioengineering and became a professional triathlete.

Although the sisters took different paths, they never lost sight of their childhood dream. Now, at 32 and 27 years old, respectively, Teresa and Michelle will finally achieve their goal.

Next month, they will begin playing on the same professional basketball team in Sicily, where their great-grandparents were born. They have signed one-year contracts with the Italian League, which is part of the International Basketball Federation.

The two leave for Italy on Sept. 3 and will play their first game later that month. Teresa plays forward, and Michelle plays guard.

During their eight-month season, the women expect to practice five to six hours a day with their teammates and compete against other Italian teams at least once a week. In addition to their salaries, the team will supply the pair with an apartment, a car and an interpreter to help them communicate with fellow players. At the end of the season, they have the option of re-signing or attempting to join another team in Europe.

"It's kind of like still a dream right now," said Teresa, who lives in Ventura during the off-season. "We know this is happening, but pinch us to make sure. Once we get there and get on the court and actually play, I think it's really going to hit us."

Throughout their careers, Teresa and Michelle never competed on the same team. Teresa attended Buena High School; Michelle went to Thousand Oaks High School. But they often trained together--bicycling, lifting weights, shooting hoops or playing one-on-one.

Those who have watched Teresa and Michelle play say the girls have a chemistry together.

"Teresa is an intense player, just like Michelle," said Charles Brown, basketball coach at Thousand Oaks High. "They make a great complement to each other. Growing up and playing together will carry over there and help them play even better."

The women came from a sports-minded family. They grew up in Ventura with six other siblings, now ages 27 to 40. Each child played sports in high school or college--everything from soccer to baseball to swimming to track to tennis.

Their grandfather, Joe Palmisano, played Major League Baseball and competed in the 1931 World Series with the Philadelphia Athletics.

Their father, also named Joe, played in the Chicago Cubs' minor league organization in the 1950s. It was important that his children be involved in sports, he said.

"It makes a well-rounded person out of someone," said the 73-year-old Palmisano, a retired elementary and middle school teacher. "They understand honesty, good sportsmanship."

Teresa and Michelle excelled academically and in other sports as well. At Buena, the 6-foot, 2-inch Teresa competed in varsity track, tennis and basketball before graduating in 1987. During her four years at UC Berkeley, she scored 1,611 points--the fourth highest in the university's history. She also grabbed 874 rebounds--the second highest in school history.

The 5-foot, 10-inch Michelle did not want to play on the same team as her older sister, so she lived with one of her other sisters in Thousand Oaks.

At Thousand Oaks High, Michelle scored 2,789 points over four years--the fourth highest in the state.

She also competed on the varsity tennis, track and swim teams, becoming the first athlete at Thousand Oaks High to have earned 12 varsity letters before graduating in 1992. She attended UCLA for one year, then transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville before pursuing her PhD at UC San Diego, where she is researching the effects of fatigue and low oxygen on muscle efficiency. She is putting her studies on hold while playing in Europe.

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