Site hosted by Build your free website today!

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 was broken.

"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."

Instead of 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.

"You'd be 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 end."