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Mike Lucas: Timberwolves target undrafted Penney

6 p.m.

ESPN's coverage of the 2003 National Basketball Association draft begins.

10:15 p.m.

ESPN's draft analyst Jay Bilas rips Rick Rickert for leaving the University of Minnesota after his sophomore year. The Minnesota Timberwolves had just selected Rickert at the bottom of the second round with the 55th pick overall.

10:16 p.m.

ESPN's draft moderator Mike Tirico teases the final picks - Dallas at No. 57 and Detroit at No. 58 - before going to commerical break.

(Imagine now if you're Kirk Penney, and you are sitting in front of your television set. Waiting. Your phone has yet to ring, your name has yet to be called. And, now, after four-plus hours, you must sit through another agonizing three minutes waiting for the announcement of the final two selections of the draft.

(That entails sitting through a SportsCenter promo, a Coors Light ad, a Ford ad -"Have you looked at Ford lately"- that was not intended to be a referendum on the Milwaukee Bucks first round selection, a Latin Fury boxing promo featuring none other than Madison's very own flyweight Eric Morel, a local car ad, and a local high-speed Internet ad.)

10:19 p.m.

Or an eternity later.

ESPN's draft coverage resumes. At No. 57, the Dallas Mavericks have just taken center Xue Yugyan of the Hong Kong Flying Dragons. That leaves one pick on the board. Tirico interviews Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who volunteers that the Mavericks have drafted Yugyan for the Denver Nuggets.

Stop the presses.

Cuban, looking gym rat fashionable in a black sleeveless T-shirt, gets into a number of topics, not the least of which is the value of identifying worthy free agents. He contends, "It's easier to get kids that fell through (the draft) and they're better off not getting picked (because) they can pick their team and get some better money."

Cuban adds that the Mavericks will sign a couple of free agents and give them a chance to play in the summer league.

It sure sounded like Cuban was talking to Penney.

10:25 p.m.

Or thereabouts.

The draft ends with Detroit taking center Andres Gliniadakis from Greece, the 12th international product taken in the second round alone. Tirico wraps up the ESPN telecast by pointing out that some very successful college players have been snubbed. He names Michigan's LaVell Blanchard, Oklahoma's Hollis Price, Tennessee's Ron Slay and Western Kentucky's Chris Marcus.

And, of course, you can add Kirk Penney to that list.


But unbowed.

When the phone did finally ring Thursday, it was not Cuban and the Mavericks, but it was the Minnesota Timberwolves. Penney, the smooth-stroking shooting guard from the University of Wisconsin, is expected to join the Timberwolves' summer league team in Orlando. A minicamp is scheduled for next week at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

When Penney was asked Wednesday if he had a good or bad feeling about the draft, he responded, "I don't have an opinion either way, because I feel like it's going to work out no matter what happens. If I don't get drafted, I'll be a free agent. You have to believe in what you can do as a player and believe you can make a team somewhere."

When quizzed on the NBA players that he has enjoyed watching over the years, Penney cited the Mavericks' Steve Nash for his use of runners and the Timberwolves' Wally Szczerbiak for his ability to spot up and come off screens.

In preparation for the draft, Penney did his homework, explaining, "You try and educate yourself as much as you possibly can about every (team's) situation. I have a good knowledge of most of the situations and what they need."

Besides Rickert, a logical and politically correct hometown pick, the Timberwolves added raw potential to their roster with the addition of 6-foot-9, 205-pound Ndudi Ebi, a 19-year-old high school player from Texas. Ebi, a small forward, was taken with the 26th pick in the first round.

The Timberwolves, like most NBA teams, could use some shooters. Their starting guards last season were Troy Hudson, a sixth-year player from Southern Illinois, and Anthony Peeler, an 11th year player from Missouri. Most of their 3-point shooting was handled by Hudson (.365 percent), Peeler (.410) and Szczerbiak (.421), a fourth-year player from Miami (Ohio).

Their backup guards were Kendall Gill, a 13-year player from Illinois; Rod Strickland, a 15-year player from DePaul; and Mike Wilks, a rookie from Rice and Milwaukee King High School.

Two other guards, Terrell Brandon and Igor Rakocevic, were on the injured list.

Given the defensive coverage that megastar Kevin Garnett routinely draws, you'd think Minnesota would present a golden opportunity for a shooter like Penney. Ironically, Penney worked out for four teams prior to the draft and the Timberwolves were not one of them. Then, again, they've likely had no problem charting Penney's development into an all-around Big Ten player with the Badgers.

Two years ago, Penney put on a shooting clinic at Williams Arena, scoring 30 points, 27 in the final 15 minutes of Wisconsin's come-from-behind victory over the Gophers. He knocked down 6 of 9 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

When it was suggested to Penney that the league is desperate for that kind of shooting - given the ugliness of the NBA finals - he agreed, "Obviously that's the word around that shooters are needed and there are a lot of teams that need them. You're watching (the finals) and saying, 'Aw, c'mon give me a shot.'"

It would appear now that he will get that shot as a free agent with the Timberwolves. "It's nice to know where you're going and what you're doing," he has said. Still, he knows that he could be in this situation again, wondering what's next, what's ahead. "It's part of sports," he said, without any reservations or regrets.

10:30 p.m.

A new chapter begins with a new challenge for Kirk Penney.


Published: 9:49 AM 6/27/03