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Penney ready for big audition

Ex-Badger heads to pre-draft camp

Last Updated: June 1, 2003

Madison - Kirk Penney feels anticipation and excitement these days. Nervousness doesn't enter into play.

"If you're prepared, you have a little more confidence in yourself and I certainly feel more prepared," he said.

Beginning Tuesday, the former University of Wisconsin standout takes part in the National Basketball Association's version of a job fair, where he and other NBA hopefuls will play and drill, not to mention be weighed and measured, in front of scouts and executives from around the league. The pre-draft camp at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago marks the last time players can make a league-wide impression before the draft later this month.

Each one of their goals boils down to something like this: Make someone fall in love with their game enough to draft them or at least invite them for an individual workout.

Penney, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who finished as the Badgers' sixth-leading scorer of all time, probably fits into the latter category at this point. To date, he has just one individual workout scheduled (June 17 with Houston).

A likely free agent

He probably will go unselected in the June 26 draft but get picked up as a free agent and play in a summer league. His situation could change quickly with a strong performance at the pre-draft camp, though.

"You've seen that time and time again, and that is how I'm approaching it," Penney said. "Sure people have seen me a lot. I've already been evaluated a lot because I've done four years of school over here as well as the World Championships.

"You know it's another opportunity to be able to tell people that you can contribute and you're willing to work hard, and that's what this opportunity is for me."

It is also another chance to fulfill a dream that has already taken him further than he'd ever imagined. Consider that at age 22, he has already played in the Olympics, World Championships, an NCAA Final Four and Sweet 16 and won two Big Ten championships.

"It's just another step you keep elevating your game and finding yourself in different situations and this is the same thing," Penney said. "The opportunity is there."

Proved his mettle

Although Penney scored 1,454 points and was a two-time all-Big Ten Conference selection, his play in the World Championships last summer perhaps left a bigger impression on scouts who questioned his quickness and wondered at what position he fit best.

"At the championships, he played extremely well," said Ryan Blake of the NBA's scouting department. "He's got great knowledge of the game. His obvious tools are his shooting. His handling was somewhat of a question, but we thought his handle against the world was at a high level. These questions were being answered. Yeah, he can play at this level."

Penney became a more rounded player at Wisconsin, but he is still a shooter first. He also rebounds well for a guard. But there is some question as to whether Penney has the athleticism to defend shooting guards, a position some of the league's most explosive players play.

Despite that alleged deficiency, he held his own at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational in April. Coming off a three-week break during which he says he "didn't pick up a ball," Penney averaged 12.6 points per game on 48.6% shooting, although he made just one of 10 beyond the deeper three-point line.

Lessons learned

He left Virginia with two philosophies on how to approach these camps: play your game and stay aggressive.

"You've got to be very aggressive," he said. "That's cliche when it comes to camps like this. You've got to shoot it. You can't hesitate and that is a mentality you have to have. You have to go out there and earn yourself a job."

Since returning from Portsmouth, Penney's office has been the Kohl Center, where he shoots for a couple of hours in the morning and lifts weights and plays pickup games in the afternoon if there are enough bodies.

His workout partner has been former Iowa standout Luke Recker, who spent this past season in the developmental league and whose fiancee is from Madison. Penney and Recker met through Sean Marks, a New Zealander who teamed with Recker briefly on the Miami Heat last season.

Meanwhile, Penney has been dealing with other aspects of the real world.

Lately, he has spent his evenings packing and cleaning. With teammate and good friend Dave Mader's marriage last weekend, Penney is moving out of the apartment the two shared for the past two years to make room for the newlyweds.

Consider the move symbolic of a new beginning for Penney.

"It was a great time and it all goes by so fast, but all good things come to an end," he said. "And if you move on to bigger and better things, it will all be OK."

Coming Tuesday: Marquette's Dwyane Wade and Robert Jackson prepare for the Chicago pre-draft camp.

From the June 2, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel