Badgers' Bet Begins With a
Kirk Penney started his college basketball career at
Four years later, that's where he would like it to end.
"That was a dream run," Penney said recalling the 1999-2000 season when he was a freshman. "It would be a great feeling to go out the same way."
In between, Penney, a
This season, Penney has been checking off the final games of his collegiate
career as a reminder that the end is near. The two-time all-Big Ten first team
selection and his fifth-seeded Badgers (22- 7) open the tournament here on
Thursday against 12th-seeded
It was against
"It seems like a lifetime ago," said Penney, who scored in single
digits in five of
Penney ultimately adjusted to his third coach eight games later, breaking
out for a career-high 33 points in an 86-73 win over
Penney has grown into a versatile player -- especially under Ryan. The
6-foot-5 guard can make the three-pointer consistently and create opportunities
inside or off the dribble. He has bulked up from 188 pounds when he arrived in
"In this day and age, to play against the best teams, you have to have
a countermove or something to keep people honest," Ryan told the
Steadfastly lodged in the
"It's a situation where your career is coming to an end and you want to pass that urgency on to the young guys," Penney said. "I think they understand how much it means to you."
So the usually placid Kiwi has become more vocal lately.
"We've worked hard to be where we are and they [his teammates] understand that we need to work hard to keep playing," Penney said. "I think this game will be a good measuring stick of how much we've developed in the last two years because we're playing a very tough team."
Penney's biggest improvement has come as a passer. He has 88 assists, one more than he had the last two years combined, and NBA teams are aware of his talents. According to pro scouts, he's projected as high as a late first-round pick.
But for Penney, all of his accolades take a back seat to taking care of business Thursday, as he would be part of more victories than any Badgers player.
"You make your own destiny; seeding doesn't matter now," Penney said. "Being able to play in the Olympics and World Championships, those are things you'll always remember. But right now the focus for myself and the team is this tournament.
"We're not taking anything for granted having lost to them last year. We know they can play."