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Louis Post - Dispatch; St. Louis, Mo.; Jan 10, 2003; Jeremy Rutherford Of The Post-Dispatch;

Copyright Pulitzer Publishing Company Jan 10, 2003

COLLEGE BASKETBALL Reporter Jeremy Rutherford: E-mail: Phone: 314-444-7135


The best strokes from Wisconsin's Kirk Penney come when the Badgers star has a pencil in his hand.

"Kirk's a tremendous artist," said St. Louis University coach Brad Soderberg, a former assistant coach with the Badgers. "I have a couple of children and once he drew them a sketch of some chimpanzees in a tree that was absolutely phenomenal."

Others have seen the amazing finished products.

"He's very gifted," Wisconsin assistant Tony Bennett said. "He can just see something in his mind and put it on paper."

But the New Zealand native can make more than pictures come to life.

"When Kirk was a kid," Bennett said, "he wrote an essay all about his dream to come here and play," basketball.

Penney has not only found his way to the United States, he has become a star. And he continues to shade in the particulars to a career that is still blossoming. On Saturday, the preseason Big Ten first-team selection will lead Wisconsin (10-3) at No. 10 Illinois (11-1).

He is averaging 16.4 points a game and is a 38-percent 3-point shooter.

As a freshman in 2000, Penney played in the NCAA Final Four for the Badgers. Later that summer, the 6-foot-5 guard competed for New Zealand in the Olympic Games in Australia, becoming one of only 30 players ever to par ticipate in both events in the same year. Last summer, he led his country at the World Championships in Indianapolis.

Like many artists, Penney attempts to remain anonymous.

"Having played where I have, being able to play in different countries and experience all of that ... if I didn't come in with any more knowledge or any more experience, then something would be wrong," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently.

Penney was discovered in 1999, when Bennett was coaching Penney's club team in New Zealand. Bennett called home to his father, former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, and suggested that the Badgers take a look at the gritty guard.

The elder Bennett dispatched Soderberg, who embarked on a 12- hour flight from Los Angeles.

"I think I was only on the ground (in New Zealand) for about 36 hours," Soderberg said. "I was able to see him play three games. After the second game, I knew that he could play. The third game, we confirmed it. So, I called Coach Bennett and I said, 'Coach, I think this is a can't miss.'"

Penney committed to the Badgers before Soderberg's plane left the ground. With Penney being only 19 and perhaps not knowing the Big Ten from Big Ben, many wondered if he would take off in what is considered to be the most physical conference in the country.

He has succeeded because a personality Dick Bennett once called "rugby tough."

Soderberg said, "I think that's kind of a product of being from New Zealand. It's a real rugged style of living."."

Tony Bennett added, "Kirk has really turned into a very complete player. I've known him since he was 15 and, in watching him develop, one of his strengths has been his knack to grasp things. It takes him just a little while to figure it out and then, bang, he's got it. He just has special abilities."