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UW men's basketball: Penney's UW career comes to an end

By Rob Schultz
March 28, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Kentucky's Gerald Fitch walked to the free-throw line with 5 seconds left in the game and the Wildcats holding a 62-57 lead, Kirk Penney knew his career with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team would soon be over.

"I was just standing there thinking to myself, 'Whew, I guess this is what it feels like, huh?' " Penney said after the Badgers' 63-57 loss to the Wildcats during an NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal game at the Metrodome here.

It was difficult for Penney to leave the Metrodome court. After shaking the hands of the Kentucky players and coaches, he walked red-eyed and arm-and-arm with Wisconsin assistant coach Tony Bennett and freshman Alando Tucker while heading for the locker room.

It was Bennett who discovered Penney, recruited the New Zealander to Wisconsin and then coached him for three years. Bennett is one of his best friends.

"He's really like a brother," Penney said of his mentor, who is expected to leave the program in a few days to accept a similar job working for his father, Dick Bennett, at Washington State.

Tucker, meanwhile, considers Penney his mentor. They roomed together during road games and Penney continuously imparted his wisdom on Tucker every chance he had.

"It was heartbreaking," Tucker said of that long, last walk with Penney. "We've been through so much together. As my roommate on the road, I saw other sides of him that others don't see. That's why it hurts to see it end like this. He worked so hard. He had a great career. I just didn't want it to end like this."

Penney finished his career with a team-high 20 points against the Wildcats. But just three came in the second half when Kentucky, mainly forward Chuck Hayes, intensified its pressure on Penney by denying him the ball.

"They were working hard," Penney said of the Kentucky defense. "They were working hard off the ball. They definitely hustled and picked it up in the second half."

Junior center Dave Mader, who is Penney's roommate in Madison, also is sad to see that Penney's playing days at the UW are over.

"I feel bad for him. He had a great career and it was an honor and pleasure to play with him," said Mader. "He worked harder than anybody out there, he loved the game more than anybody. He was a great competitor."

Penney didn't want to look back at his career that will be remembered as perhaps the best all-around by anyone who wore a UW uniform. He finished as the all-time leader in games won (83) during a career at the UW that started with a trip to the Final Four as a freshman and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen as a senior.

He finished with 1,454 points, sixth on the school career list. His five 3-pointers against the Wildcats gave him 217, which moved him ahead of Michael Finley and into second on the career list behind Tim Locum (227).

He also finished second on the career list in 3-point attempts (561), fifth in games played (127) and sixth in minutes played (3,416).

"It's pure emotions right now," Penney said as his mind drifted back to the wins last week during the first two rounds of the tournament at Spokane. Wash.

But he smiled as he thought of the future. Penney is expected to be picked during the upcoming NBA draft. However, he was thinking of how he'll cheer on the Badgers no matter where he's playing.

"It's in great hands," he said. "I'm fully confident in the guys in the years to come. I'll be looking from wherever I am and hoping they'll be doing well."

UW coach Bo Ryan was thinking about the future, too, as he talked about Penney's career with the Badgers.

"It was a pleasure coaching him," said Ryan. "He's been so good for the school, so good for his teammates, just a first-class individual. But he's left a lot of good things behind with his teammates. We're looking forward to next year. We're looking forward to getting back at this thing. You know how coaches are, let's start tomorrow."

Published: 9:59 AM 3/28/03