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Penney for hoopster's thoughts as the world sits up and takes notice
Sunday Star - Times; Wellington, New Zealand; Sep 1, 2002; HINTON, Marc;

THIS is Kirk's Penney's penny's worth, and it should be the motto of the Tall Blacks at these world championships. Listen to these words from the Kiwi sharpshooter: "If we can do the ordinary well, the extraordinary can be accomplished."

They are sage words from a young man, Kirk Penney, the Tall Blacks' shooting guard, still in his senior year at college just up the road at Madison, Wisconsin. At 21 he may still have many fine years in front of him, but he has already packed a lot of basketball into his life.

And he knows exactly the role the Tall Blacks have to play in this Midwest city if they're to go on and build from their sensational start of two wins from their first two matches in these championships.

Speaking to him after a 19-point effort in the Tall Blacks' stunning opening upset over the Russians on Friday, Penney dropped the perfect conclusion to a day in which the gutsy Kiwis, who overcame a 19-point third-quarter deficit, once more made the basketball world sit up and take notice. This time it happened, too, on the grandest of stages.

Asked if this was just another chapter in a storybook last couple of years, Penney spent a few emotional words.

"It's built up ever since last year when we beat Australia in qualifying and the road to Indy began. Now we're here we've got to cherish the moment and play the game the way we know we can, which is to the best of our ability. Because if we can do the ordinary well, the extraordinary can be accomplished. It's a matter of going out there and just playing the way New Zealand basketball plays."

Penney's 19 against Russia - he shot a less than stellar seven- of-23, but stepped up crucially when his side was struggling through the early going - continued a nice run of performances from the Kiwi at Conseco Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers.

The last time he played at the venue he also went for 19, in a loss to Iowa State at the Big Ten tournament, and Penney confessed to a liking for "the house that Reggie built".

He was, of course, referring to long-time Pacers star Reggie Miller, playing here for the United States (though yet to see court time because of ankle problems). But there were also parallels to another Indiana icon being talked about last week in reference to the Tall Blacks.

More than one person made reference to the Kiwis doing a Hoosiers at this tournament, in reference to the Milan High team portrayed as Hickory High and coached by Gene Hackman in the famous movie about the classic underdog coming through.

Penney, who plays nearby and knows all about the passion the good people of Indiana have for their hoops, said he was enjoying the familiar feel of the territory.

"Wisconsin is only five hours from here by car and it's awesome to be playing an event like this here in the Midwest. I've played on Indiana soil quite a lot."

Put to him that people were starting to talk about the Tall Blacks doing a Hoosiers on this event (his coach also had heard the talk and frankly didn't like it), Penney, who followed up his Russian effort with a joint team-high 20 against Venezuela yesterday, took a more positive spin.

"What an honour to be compared with that," said the young man who has been turning scouts' heads with his complete inside-outside game. "It's a great movie. You never know, it's two games down, but it's a matter of getting the guys together and understanding it's just one game. That's all we're thinking about right now."

And Penney did not believe the victory over Russia, runner-up at this event the last two times, should have been much of a surprise anyway.

"It's a huge win for us, but it's where we want to be and where we feel we should be. We don't want to be overwhelmed and we need to just take it in our stride."

Look no further than this impressive young man for all the indication you need that this is a heady team of hoopsters. At 19 down against the Russians, he is adamant he still believed.

"I thought: `We're not playing our game and why aren't we?' The guys gathered around each other and we brought it home for a really good win in the end.

"It's a testament to how close these guys are on and off the court. They will not give in. There's a lot of self-belief and you have to have that."

Like he said, do the ordinary well and hang on for the extraordinary.