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Basketball: Harbour player in line for US pro spot

The New Zealand Herald


The value of American imports in the National Basketball League cannot be underestimated when you consider that a second New Zealander is highly likely to play in the United States NBA.

Sean Marks played for North Harbour while at Rangitoto College, went to the US as a teenager and won a trial after a recommendation from Harbour's American coach at the time, Jerry Webber.

He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, was drafted by the New York Knicks and immediately traded to the Toronto Raptors. Now, at 26, he is set to hit his prime with the Miami Heat.

Kirk Penney, 21, is on course to follow a similar route.

Penney was a Westlake Boys High student when he impressed Harbour import and player/coach Tony Bennett, who referred him to the University of Wisconsin, where his father, Dick, was coach.

Penney moved to the United States at 17 and next season will be the only "senior" (last year) player for the Wisconsin Badgers in the country's main school competition, the College Top 10, which means he is in front of all the top scouts.

Marks rates Penney, a high-scoring shooting guard, as a good chance of making the draft (by which players move up from college to professional play), provided the breaks keep coming and he gets the right opportunities and does the right things in front of the right people.

"It's a dream really," Penney said.

He is back with the Tall Blacks for the series against Hungary, which started in Auckland last night and continues today in Palmerston North. He last played with them at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane last year, where he was top-scorer with an average 14.8 points.

That showed the progress he had made in the few months since the Sydney Olympics, where he made his debut.

He missed the qualifying wins over Australia, as he is completing a degree in landscape architecture.

"It's really good to be back. I enjoy seeing my family, the team ... but can't you do something about this weather?" he asked as Auckland's rain persisted.

Penney said everyone in the New Zealand team was working hard for some wins that would provide momentum as they went on to Europe and the US.

He works on his shooting despite the talent for exceptional accuracy he was born with. Three-pointers are his specialty.

"You have to keep practising or you lose it," he said.

He is looking forward to working off coach Tab Baldwin's triangle offence, taking the outside shots that come as options when the forwards are blocked.

"I think Phill [Jones] and I are really going to make defences think, open up that inside-outside game."

The world championships, starting in Indianapolis late next month, offer another chance to impress the talent scouts.

He is already hearing whispers of interest from the pro clubs, but the college regulations mean agents and clubs are not allowed officially to contact school players "so it's all in the wind".

He will get the first real indication of where he stands if he is invited to a summer camp, and according to which one he gets invited to.

Penney is the younger brother of North Harbour NPC rugby player Rodd Penney.

He tried the 15-man game, as well as cricket and other sports, but basketball drew him "maybe because you can play just by yourself or with any number of people".