NCAA Midwest Regional
Badgers' Penney happy to assume leadership role
By C. L. Brown
''I kind of take to watching the other guys, making sure
they're OK,'' said the senior from
''When you're younger, you're just thinking about what you have to do.''
Penney, who leads the Badgers in scoring (16.1 points per
game) and assists (3.1),has the experience to take
such a leadership role. Fresh off that Final Four appearance, he played for
''He'll be one of those guys in the community that people
find when they need things done,''
The Badgers, the Midwest Regional's
fifth seed, will need a few believers when they face
It is the 15th time
Penney welcomes the role of underdog.
''I love this position; there's nothing to lose,'' he said. ''You just go out and see what happens. Seeding is always irrelevant.''
Penney has beaten some odds of his own. After all,
Tony Bennett recommended Penney to his father. But the 6-foot-5 guard received a scholarship offer only after Madison, Wis., native Reece Gaines turned it down to attend the University of Louisville.
Penney arrived as an accurate shooter, but there was not much more to his game.
''He was pretty much one-dimensional,'' Ryan said. ''For us to be successful, he had to work on his passing skills, attack the rim and work on his post-up moves. He did it. He figured out how to fit in. The good ones do.''
Ryan, who is in his second season at
Opponents can't say that anymore. Penney has increased his assist averageevery season, from less than one per game as a freshman to 3.1 this season. More than half of his fieldgoal attempts in his first two seasons were from three-point range. Since bulking up to 220 pounds his junior season, he's become more effective going to the basket.
''He's thrived -- as far as adapting -- as much as any player I've ever coached,'' Ryan said. ''He's smart, therefore he learns. He learns, so he gets better. That's a nice cycle to have.''
The word Ryan uses to describe Penney's game now is complete. Penney, who has started every game the past two seasons, shoots 49.1 percent inside the arc. He also has upped his rebounding average from 1.4 his freshman season to 6.0, second on the team.
He certainly has made an impression on
''Kirk Penney is a very poised and seasoned player,'' coach Tubby Smith said. ''He's very smart and tough on both ends of the floor. He makes other people around him better.''
More than anything else, Penney has tried to share his big-game approach with the rest of the team.
''You try to contribute any way you can,'' he said. ''I'm trying to get it done any way possible. I look around at my teammates and see the same type of attitude. It's just an incredible thing.''