Site hosted by Build your free website today!


Madison Capital Times; Madison, Wis.; Jan 6, 2003; Rob Schultz;
Copyright Madison Capital Times Jan 6, 2003

It was about 30 minutes after the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team had whipped Chicago State 73-45 at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon when Kirk Penney was told by assistant coach Tony Bennett that the Badgers weren't practicing Sunday.

Penney looked like a kid who woke up in the morning and learned it was a snow day so he didn't have to take a test he wasn't ready to take. The senior guard's eyes lit up and a smile broke out on his face that pushed his ears back all the way to his native New Zealand.

It's the same look Penney gets after he makes one of those nifty passes that have led to so many layups and other easy baskets for his Badger mates this season. Ask Penney and he'll tell you that passing the ball is every bit as satisfying as making a 3-pointer or driving for a score.

"Absolutely," said Penney, who explained how rewarding it is to drive the lane and see a defender give up his man to close in on him. It's the same feeling a great pool player gets when the table is set up for a run or when a quarterback breaks the huddle and sees the defense not ready for the play that was just called.

"So you see the play three seconds before it happens and you throw the pass knowing it's going to be there," said Penney.

Penney always has had a good eye and a reputation as a good passer. The difference this season - and what makes him so dangerous as the Badgers (10-2) prepare for their Big Ten Conference opener Wednesday night at Michigan (7-6) - is that he's getting more opportunities to pass and his teammates are ready for them.

A perfect backcourt complement to the talented and continuously improving Devin Harris, Penney leads the Badgers in scoring (16.1 points per game) as well as assists (3.5 per game). He also is among the leaders on the team in assist-to-turnover ratio.

That is the biggest difference in Penney's game compared to his first three years, when he always had more turnovers than assists.

"I think it does come down to having a feel for each other," said Penney, who has been guilty less often this season of making the pass he envisions but his teammate isn't expecting.

He made one of those against Chicago State when he drove the lane and made a beautiful wraparound pass to an open Mike Wilkinson. It never reached its destination because Wilkinson thought Penney was going to shoot and was looking at the rim for a possible rebound.

"Even if it doesn't always go off, you look at each other and make sure that, next time, you make a play," Penney said.

He did just that during the Badgers' next possession against the Cougars. Undaunted, Penney threw a no-look pass from the perimeter that sailed through congestion and reached a waiting Freddie Owens on the baseline. Owens turned it into an easy score. It was one of Penney's three assists during the game.

"You make the pass, but the receiver is just as important," Penney said. "It's all part of the chemistry. It's coming around. Now it's time to put it all together."

Bennett, who has been at Penney's side now for more than six years dating back to when they met in New Zealand, said Penney never has been more ready for the Big Ten season. That's because he never has been more versatile.

It's why he has as good a chance as anybody in the conference to earn player of the year honors.

Bennett pointed out that Penney, who had 14 points against Chicago State, is helping the Badgers in different ways, no matter how well he's shooting the ball. A perfect example was during the Badgers' 80-67 win at Temple when he continuously got in the gaps of the Owls' zone, but preferred to pass instead of shoot.

Penney took just two 3-point attempts and finished with 16 points while dishing out a team-high five assists against Temple.

"He had control of his game and his timing," said Bennett. "He got in the gaps, but he didn't put up 30 and knock down eight 3s. He really helped us in a lot of ways. We, as a staff, really thought he exhibited that."

He also exhibited something else. It's called leadership.

"When your senior leader is showing unselfishness and getting people the ball, hopefully that sends a message to the rest of the team," said Bennett.

Penney is fully aware it's his last go-round to places like Ann Arbor, Champaign, Columbus and West Lafayette. "I want to get out there and enjoy it," he said.

That means he wants to win. And he'll do everything possible to get that done.

"Passing the rock is part of it, man," he said. "It's part of the journey, part of that enjoyment."