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Money man ; Wisconsin's Badgers have seen; a big change in Kirk Penney
Spokesman Review; Spokane, Wash.; Mar 19, 2003; Jim Meehan / Staff writer;


There was the skinny, content-to-shoot-3-pointers Kirk Penney. And now, the remodeled, dish-out-a-bruise Penney.

"We had to guard him when I was the coach at Wisconsin- Milwaukee," Ryan said, "and I felt it was pretty easy to handle him because he was a catch-and-shoot guy. When I say easy, I mean we pretty much knew what he was going to do."

Times change and so has Penney's game. So has his body.

"I used to be a skinny white guy running around the 3-point line," he laughs. "I just worked hard in the weight room and started eating well. You try to find what works for you."

The extra beef means virtually everything works well for the 6- foot-5, 225-pound Penney, a senior wing who leads the fifth-seeded Badgers against No. 12 Weber State at 4:25 p.m. Thursday at the Spokane Arena.

Penney can still hit the 3-pointer - he's a career 38.6 percent shooter - but there is so much more to his game.

"Going inside, I have the bulk to make good, solid post moves," he said. "I'm able to drive the lane and nudge guys off. It makes everything a little easier."

Ryan put it this way: "In this day and age, to play against the best teams, you have to have a counter move or something to keep people honest. He does a great job catching and shooting, working off the drive and in the post. It's just the natural evolution of a player going from 18 years old to 22."

Penney - the person - has never needed much alteration. The New Zealand native has the gift of gab and his laid-back demeanor suggests that basketball doesn't consume his every thought. He'll talk your ear off, as long as the topic isn't his drop-step post move.

"Kirk's got a smile for everybody," said Ryan, who couldn't resist firing a dig. "I've noticed when he talks to the young ladies, he uses a lot more of his New Zealand accent because they eat it up."

Penney is comfortable visiting with profs, classmates or teammates. As the only senior, he is the elder statesman on a young Badgers squad.

"Obviously you develop a lot through the journey," said Penney, a landscape architecture major and an accomplished sketch artist. "It was an awesome opportunity to come over here to be part of American college life. There is so much that goes with it on and off the court.

"The opportunities are irreplaceable. I'm thankful to be part of it."

He can send a thank-you card assistant coach Tony Bennett's way. Bennett was a player-coach on a team in New Zealand and he helped steer Penney to the U.S.

By coming to the States, Penney's basketball geography expanded. He is one of the most experienced players in the NCAA Tournament. He was on Wisconsin's 2000 Final Four team. He has been a member of teams that played in the Olympics, Goodwill Games and World Championships.

He held his own against the likes of Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki. Penney averaged 16.9 points in leading New Zealand to a surprising fourth-place finish at the World Championships.

"You can pretty much pick out any team at the World Championships, and the players are unbelievable," he said. "It's an awesome experience to play in that kind of environment."

Worldly in most walks of life, Penney is pretty much old school on the court. He rarely dunks, but joked that "I'll throw one down for you if I'm on a break."

He relies on clever, fundamental moves to creates shots for himself and teammates.

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker likens Penney to ex-Duke star Shane Battier in terms of the intangibles he provides.

"I just try to be as solid as possible," Penney said. "A solid link in the chain."

But he's difficult to fence in.

"He can really shoot it and put it on the floor. He gets fouled a lot," said Eastern Washington coach Ray Giacoletti, whose Eagles gave up 25 points to Penney in a season-opening loss. "He's a man, mentally and physically."