Bloody good pickup for the Badgers
January 11, 2003
By JOHN SUPINIE
of Copley News Service
CHAMPAIGN - The first time Wisconsin
senior guard Kirk Penney met Badgers assistant Tony Bennett was almost five
years ago in Penney's native New Zealand.
At the time, Bennett
was the starting point guard on a professional team in Auckland. Penney was the local
hot-shot teenager who was trying to make an impression. In their first game of
one-on-one, Bennett left with a bloody nose. In the second game, Bennett's nose
"I don't know why
he didn't drop kick me right there," Penney said. "I felt terrible.
This was my mentor, a guy I looked up to."
drop-kicking Penney into the Kiwi sunset, Bennett gave the scouting report to
his father, Dick, then the Wisconsin coach. A Badgers
assistant soon made the trip to New Zealand. Years later, Penney
is the Badgers star when Wisconsin visits No. 10
Illinois for the Illini's Big Ten home opener.
"He's a huge
threat to us," said Illinois guard Sean
Harrington. "He's a great shooter. He gets to the hole. He'll post you up.
He rebounds the ball, gets assists. He's pretty much a complete player. He does
everything out there for them."
A preseason all-Big
Ten selection, Penney ranks in the top 15 in the conference in points (16.2
points a game), rebounds (5.8) and assists (3.5). Penney led Wisconsin to a share of the Big
Ten title last season - the Badgers' first league crown since 1947. He also
earned first-team all-Big Ten, the first Badgers player to do so since Michael
Finley in 1993 and the fifth consensus pick in the program since 1948.
Penney was a member of
the New Zealand national team that
finished fourth at the World Championships in Indianapolis last fall. He ranked
second on the team in scoring (16.9) and minutes (31.1). Penney also played for
New Zealand in the 2000 Sydney
Olympics. Penney was a freshman reserve on Wisconsin's Final Four team in
2000 who has grown from his days as a stand-still shooter.
"Kirk turned into
a very complete player," said Tony Bennett, now a Wisconsin assistant
coach. "I've known him since he was 15. Watching his development has been
a joy. He was a youngster who had the ability to grasp things."
In a country where
rugby and soccer are king, Penney fell in love with
basketball and recalls the day he and his brother, Rodd,
bought a basketball hoop for their yard.
surprised," he said. "It wasn't the easiest thing to find. We finally
got our hands on one. We broke it a few times and welded it back together. I
just had the passion to play."
Penney and Wisconsin must bounce back from
a 66-65 loss at Michigan Wednesday. The
Badgers blew a 15-point lead in the final 6 minutes, 31 seconds. Like Illinois, the Badgers open Big
Ten play with three road trips in four games.
Illinois started the Big Ten
season with a road victory at Minnesota. The win grabbed the
attention of the national media, but Illinois must remember that
playing at home doesn't guarantee a win, Harrington said.
"We learned last
year against Michigan State," said
Harrington about the game that gave coach Bill Self
his lone home loss in 33 games at Assembly Hall. "We came out not
expecting to win at home but a little flat. They got the better of us. It
opened our eyes. We definitely stressed it to the freshmen. It's important to
win at home. You have to win all your home games to have a chance at the