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Islands In The Sun

Tuesday, 11th November 2003

Basketball New Zealand (


The up-and-down NBA career of Burger King Tall Black Kirk Penney (pictured) is on hold for at least seven months.
Penney got off the rollercoaster today, boarding a plane bound for the
Canary Islands where he will play out the European season in the Spanish ACB league.
"I'm certainly going to be enjoying the climate after four years in
Wisconsin," he quipped.
Since completing his senior season at the
University of Wisconsin earlier this year, the Big Ten all-conference shooting guard has relentlessly pursued his dream of playing in the American professional ranks through an unbelievable assortment of twists and turns.
After heading most of the NBA's top college prospects in speed and agility tests at pre-draft camps, Penney went undrafted, but was immediately invited to play summer league with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was subsequently asked to veterans' camp and seemed certain of a spot on the roster, until he was cut just before the Wolves' final pre-season game.
A week into the regular season, Penney was called up by the Miami Heat to cover for a spate of injuries and made his NBA debut in the first quarter of a loss to the Dallas Mavericks, hitting his first shot from beyond the three-point arc.
But after logging a few minutes in the Heat's loss to
San Antonio the next day, he was again cast aside to re-assess his future.
Miami's general manager said he really thought they would keep me and that there was still a chance of a call-up in a week, maybe two.
"But it made me feel like going to a place where they would welcome me and want me, and where I would play a lot of minutes.
"I played a couple of games in the NBA ... I got there, but now my goals are a lot higher. If I can establish myself in
Europe, I can come back and look at NBA options next year."
The NBA is loaded with players who have built their reputations offshore before consolidating bigtime contract back in the States. With the league becoming more and more international, American scouts are now very aware of how prospects are performing in
Auna Gran Canaria sounds like a holiday resort compared to
Wisconsin and Minnesota (perhaps not Miami), but they currently lie fifth in the ACB with a 6-4 record. If Penney needs reminding of the NBA dream, he need only talk to new team-mate Pat Burke, who was a centre with the Orlando Magic last year.
Miami situation was a little frustrating and I just wanted to play somewhere," he says. "The best situation by far seemed like playing in the Spanish league, which is supposedly the best league in Europe.
"And living in the
Canary Islands seemed like a good life experience."
Penney expects to debut for his new club at home against third-placed Ricoh Manresa this weekend.