Site hosted by Build your free website today!

A Tribute to Kirk Penney and the Badgers

By Emily Christopherson


I came to school here at UW-Madison 3 years ago.  Not having grown up in Wisconsin, I, unlike a majority of UW students, was not already a Badger fan.  Throughout my first semester I kept my Gopher sports allegiance in what little sports I bothered to follow.  My dorm roommate, Sarah, tuned into all the Badger basketball games, and I often was amazed by her intensity during games.  All that began to change my second semester after Sarah got 2 tickets to go to the Badger game versus Penn St, Penney’s sophomore season.  The second ticket went to me, and it forever changed my college experience.


Being immersed in the Kohl Center atmosphere worked wonders for my Badger enthusiasm.  It shot sky-high and I was suddenly absolutely smitten with the basketball team.  Sarah gave me a run-down of the players, including Kirk Penney, the “three point specialist.”  Being as nothing’s better than a good old-fashioned three point basket (ok, so three pointers aren’t exactly old-fashioned, being as they were invented in the 70s), my sentiments of partiality turned towards Penney.  These sentiments were cemented after I heard him being interviewed after a game—who can resist that accent?!  Previously having a love affair with Australia, it wasn’t hard to switch that love affair to New Zealand.  An adorable three-point shooter from the land down under?  I’ll take it any day.


For the rest of that season, both Sarah and my screaming could be heard throughout our dorm wing whenever the Badgers had a game.  We were die-hard fans—Sarah loving Mike Kelley and I, Kirk Penney.  I began looking around the web for whatever Penney information I could find, absorbing all I could on the Kiwi basketballer (lay off me, spell check!  If New Zealand says ‘basketballer’ is a word, it’s a word!).


We finally convinced our friends that we were completely nuts when we forced them to watch the end of the year basketball awards banquet on TV.  Not only did we watch it, but we recorded it.  I’ll never forget the video montage that was shown of moments throughout the season played to Republica’s song, ‘Ready To Go.”  We must have re-watched that 10 times.  Imagine my heartache when one day I accidentally recorded over part of the awards banquet, including the aforementioned video montage.  I will never forgive myself for that one!  I still get chills when I hear that song, even when it’s just in the background of a Dairy Queen commercial.  Oh, montage clip, how I miss thee!


Wanting my friend Elizabeth to teach me how to build a website using html, I needed a website topic.  What should I do a webpage on?  Well, how about Kirk Penney?  I’ve got pictures, articles, and thoughts on him.  This seems like the perfect subject for my simple little website.  Thus began the first Kirk Penney fansite.  What it was to grow into, I had no idea. 


Of course, student season tickets were a must for the following year.  I got with a large group of students and camped out a couple of days prior to season ticket distribution.  The total number of hours that Sarah and I individually clocked: 1.  One single hour from midnight to 1am on Halloween, fully dressed in Halloween garb.  The next morning a beautiful ticket sheet was delivered to me, showing that I had tickets in section 115, row ff…or row 6, if you will.  The only drawback was being in seat 8, directly behind the basketball hoop.  That, and having an 8 foot gorilla in the seat in front of me.  Not the greatest when you stand at the paltry height of 5’4” (I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that 5’4” is the average female height).


While we couldn’t wait until the season began, our friend Elizabeth was dreading its arrival—“You guys get so obsessed during the games.  I hate it.”  Proving the team’s infectiousness, three games into the season Elizabeth was hooked.  Managing to buy season tickets off a fellow student, the three of us became game obsessed together.  With the loss of Mike Kelley, Sarah refused to choose a new favorite—“I just can’t pick a favorite.”  Elizabeth’s favorite became Dave “calves like quarter-barrels” Mader, and my favorite, of course, remained Penney. 


But what was up with Penney this year??  What’s with the loss of hair length and addition of massive muscle tone??  What are you doing trying to post up??—you’re a three point shooter!  What has this new coach Bo Ryan done to the player I love?  After a rocky start to the season, I soon saw Penney and the team pull it together to demonstrate the new Badger style brought by Ryan.  The style is the Swing Offense, of which I won’t explain because I just don’t get it.  But now, instead of “Kirk Penney, the three-point specialist,” it’s “Kirk Penney, one with multiple offensive weapons.” 


Throughout the year my website kept growing as more and more articles, pictures, and miscellaneous comments were added.  And what should happen one day but an email from a fellow Kirk Penney fan who had discovered my website.  How absolutely thrilled I was to learn that somebody had not only seen my website, but enjoyed it.  A few more encouraging emails began to trickle in, fueling my website ego and ambition.  Remembering how frustrating and time consuming it was searching through the vast world-wide-web for information on Penney, I made it my mission to make my site as comprehensive as I could.  How much time I would have saved if I had found a Kirk Penney site when I first began searching the web for information.  If I can make this search easier for all the other Penney fans out there, it’s definitely worth it.  My website high definitely came when I received my first email from New Zealand.  Knowing that I was helping Penney’s Kiwi fans keep tabs on their New Zealand mate was (and is) such a great feeling.


I didn’t miss a single home game that year.  This involved me driving to Madison on three different occasions during winter break from my home town of Rochester, MN, a 7 hour round trip drive.  I was officially labeled “crazy” by my family.  It really didn’t help that my Gopher family is inherently Badger-hating.  I either watched on TV or listened on internet radio to every single away game, save one—Penn St.  That game was missed because I was attending the Gopher-Michigan game at Williams Arena.  I still blame myself for their loss that night—if only I’d been listening, they would’ve won.


Penney’s junior season was one of many great memories.  Beating #7 ranked Illinois (resulting in court-storming #1).  Beating #14 ranked Marquette, behind Penney’s 33 points.  The come-from-behind win at Minnesota behind Penney’s 30 points—27 of which came in the second half (watching the second half of this game never gets old!).  Breaking MSU’s 53 home game winning streak (as cruel as it sounds, how much I loved watching the MSU student section sullenly amble off the court post-court-storming after learning that the last MSU “game-winning” basket didn’t count).  Winning in Bloomington for the first time since 1977 (can’t hear this last sentence in any voice but Matt LePay’s…that sound clip was always being played whenever I entered the Kohl Center for games this year).  And best of all, beating Michigan for a share of the Big Ten Championship.  The first Big Ten Championship since 1947.  Having to share the championship with 3 other teams didn’t matter a bit.  Picked to finish 9th or lower in the conference, the young Badger squad surprised the bejeezus out of everyone, and exceeded everyone’s expectations, except, perhaps, their own.  Making this game all the more sweet, I had been given front row tickets to the game by the wonderful Badger Student Fan Club because of my website.  Storming the court, listening to the speeches, and watching the players cut down the net made that night one of the best of my college years up to that point (and I’m sure it will remain very near the top).  While losing to Maryland by 30 points in the second round of the NCAA tournament was a little sad, at least we went down to the eventual national champions.


This summer Penney was on the New Zealand national basketball team—the Tall Blacks.  He had competed with them before in both the 2000 Olympics and 2001 Goodwill Games, but this year the Tall Blacks had qualified for the World Basketball Championships.  Expectations were about as high for the Tall Blacks in the World Basketball Championships as they were for the Badgers the previous year—not high.  Breaking expectations seems to be what Penney does best—or is it a trait of all Kiwis?  What should New Zealand do but place 4th in the world.  Where did the USA finish?  An unmemorable…well, I don’t recall.  However, I do know that it was under the Tall Blacks.  The great success of the Tall Blacks created a basketball fervor in rugby-loving New Zealand.  Penney and the Tall Blacks became New Zealand national heroes.  More emails came rolling in to me from Penney-loving Kiwis.          


Badger season ticket time came around once again, and this year another girl, Brighton, was infected with the Badger basketball disease.  Not having the fortune of a large group for line waiting this year (it was only the 4 of us), we planned out early on our line-waiting schedule.  Getting in line 4 days early would surely get us close to front row seats, right?  My heart absolutely sank when, over a week before ticket distribution, a group appeared in line at the Kohl Center.  Oh, how I hated those students!  What are you doing starting the line-waiting this early?!  There was no way the 4 of us could afford to get in line that early.  Waiting alone, that would be 60 hours in line for each of us!  We hoped that no one else would join the line for a few more days.  The line slowly grew, and 5 days before distribution we had enough.  We needed to join the line!  Not wanting to wait in line alone the whole time, often times we were paired up, resulting in approximately 40-50 hours in line for each of us.  As hellish as it was at the time (sleeping on frozen concrete with a tarp covering you as pools of rain and snow form above you), I actually do look back at it fondly.  It’s an interesting experience not many go through that’s fun to tell to others.  But wait—not many go through?  By the time ticket distribution came around, the line was insanely long and student season tickets had sold out for the first time ever.  It seems as though the Badgers had infected a huge portion of the student population.  What seats did 5 days in line get us?  Section 115, row nn—about the 15th row.  The last row of double-digit letters and padded folding chairs (as if they were ever sat in).                                        


The season started well, losing only 2 non-conference games to Wake Forest and Marquette.  Not a bad pair of teams to lose to.  Was our non-conference schedule full of “cupcakes?”  Who cares?  All that matters was that we played and won—often by a very comfortable margin.  Ah, but the real test is against our conference foes.  How will we fare this year?  The first two games (both away) were lost.  One loss was given to us by Michigan.  Michigan??  Oh no, our team’s in trouble.  Looks like the Badgers are going to struggle this year.  But, wait!  It turns out Michigan’s not too shabby this year, and the Badgers climb up the rankings after raking in the wins.  True, they did lose twice more (to Purdue and…Penn St.), but then March 5th came around.  The last game of the regular season to determine the Big Ten Champs.  Who’s in the front-running to win the championship?  Well, look-y here!  It’s the Badgers and Illinois, who happen to be playing each other.  If the Badgers were to win this game they would clinch sole possession of the Big Ten Championship title.  After an utterly heart-stopping ending to the game, the student section is spoiled once again with a court-storming.  Big Ten Champs, baby!  And who are we sharing it with?  Absolutely no one!  More great speeches and net-cutting ensue.  I feel so proud and happy that I can only imagine how the team must feel.  Knowing how happy they must feel after all their work paid off is the best thought of all. 


This season was filled with many great memories as well.  Winning by 49 points (who cares who it was against?!  49 points!).  Penney’s game-winning shot and Tucker’s game-saving block at Ohio St.  Tucker’s ally-oop dunk off Devin’s pass at the end of the MSU game (Izzo’s not the only one who remembers it!).  Wilkinson’s 3 point shooting bonanza in the second half of the Iowa game.  Another great game by Penney against the Gophers at William Arena, which I was fortunate enough to attend (sorry you didn’t enjoy the ending as much as I did, Dad!).  Of course, the championship-winning Illinois game.  Freddie’s last second 3 pointer against Tulsa in the second round of the NCAA tournament (at that moment I almost loved you more than Penney…but not quite).  Again, I didn’t miss a single game (either attended, watched on TV, or listened to internet radio).  There isn’t much I can think of that’s more important than basketball games!             


Kirk Penney’s tenure on the court as a Badger basketball player came to an end tonight, but not before a valiant effort by both Penney and the entire team.  What were the Badgers doing in the Sweet Sixteen playing against the #1 team in the country anyway?  Weren’t we supposed to lose in the first round against Weber St.?  No?  Ok, but certainly we’d lose to #13 seed Tulsa.  No, analysts, I’m afraid you’re wrong again.  Tonight, Penney and the Badgers proved to all the naysayers that they deserved to play with the elite.  Kentucky may have won the game, but it was a hard-fought win, with the Badgers keeping it close the entire game.  We certainly gave Kentucky a run for their money.  Kentucky fans and Ashley Judd were kept biting their nails the whole game.  Sure, star Keith Bogans was out the whole second half due to an injury, but you know what?  That’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Anyone who tries to downplay the Badgers’ achievements is just laughable at this point.  If two Big Ten championships and a Sweet Sixteen appearance don’t prove that the Badgers are a worthy team, I don’t know what does.  Does the Pope wear a funny hat?  He certainly does.


Thinking of how my website looked in its beginnings to how it looks now, I am amazed.  I’ve gotten so much joy and fulfillment out of hearing from everyone who has emailed me.  Each email I receive makes me feel better and better about creating the website.  While I have been criticized at times (anyone with this type of website must be a pathetic freak, right?), thinking that I may have added to anyone’s enjoyment of Penney’s Badger basketball career makes it all worthwhile. 


As I sit here and try to write a concluding paragraph, I’m at a loss for words.  I’ve just watched Penney play his last game in the cardinal and white uniform.  I began writing this to express my utter appreciation to all that Kirk Penney has brought to Wisconsin (not just for the basketball team), New Zealand (I know, who am I to talk for New Zealand?  But we all know they love him), and my own college experience.  Five pages later, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.  There’s so much I haven’t written.  If I had never gone to that first Badger basketball game, how different would my college experience have been?  The pride I feel for being a UW student has no bounds (I came to the UW hating mascot Bucky, now I love him), and this pride was greatly facilitated by the school spirit shared and acquired at basketball games (football shmootball).  I hope Kirk Penney realizes how much he is appreciated and loved by both Badger fans and Kiwis.  He may think he knows how much, but he has no idea.  On behalf of all Kirk Penney fans out there, I wish him luck wherever life leads him.  We love you, Kirk!