The sport fosters creativity. Some dunk with authority, others prefer to lay the ball in. Some pass with passion; others score at will.
Put together, the game produces a collage of awkward grace and powerful finesse.
From that, Kirk Penney created a masterpiece.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior still doesn't dunk (at least not in games) but does almost everything else. Once strictly a three-point threat, he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He can muscle his way around the post, either posting up or defending bigger players. Flash a double-team his way and he can get the ball to teammates in positions to score.
Three years after coming to campus as a rugby-tough New
Zealander, Penney is not only
"People have to guard Kirk in more ways than they had
to a couple of years ago," said
People have noticed. Penney enters the season as a pre-season Big Ten all-conference pick and is one of a handful of players on the pre-season watch list for the Wooden Award.
On top of all that, it's safe to assume he is one of a few players whose artistry isn't limited to the basketball court. He can get down with a pencil and sketch pad, too.
Penney has loved drawing as long as he has loved basketball and was smart enough to find a major that lets him use his talents. As a landscape architecture major, he spends most of his day drawing.
His latest assignment involves redesigning space around the
state Capitol and along the city's infamous
"I find drawing very therapeutic," he said. "I really do. Coming to class, you've got designs that are detailed drawings to do. It keeps you busy but it is not necessarily the most mind-challenging stuff, so it's therapeutic."
Penney made the Big Ten's all-academic team last season, the only first-team player on the list. Depending on how life goes, he wouldn't mind being the guy designing the golf course down the road or studying architecture in graduate school.
Everything he draws, he keeps.
"I'm keeping everything just to form some kind of portfolio at the end of the day," he said. "Hopefully, that will come in handy if that is a profession that I want to pursue."
Penney shouldn't have to worry about that for a while; his immediate future appears to be in basketball.
Besides a possible professional career, he has been a
member of the
It is one of his many highs at
A year ago, he didn't take to Ryan's offense right away,
scoring in single digits in five of the first nine games as
Since then, he has become symbolic of the potential for a player to grow under Ryan. Penney, who averaged 15.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season, flourished in the coach's offense, scoring 20 or more points eight times and 15 or more points on nine other occasions as the Badgers finished at 19-13. He also shot better than ever (45.4%).
A year later, he is the team's lone senior and one of two members of the 2000 Final Four team left. (Junior Dave Mader redshirted that season.)
"It's amazing how fast time flies, but it's exciting," Penney said. "I'm the only senior and in the situation that I'm in, I'm just going to enjoy it. This is your last year. You don't want it to go too fast. You want to really enjoy the ride."
It could be a memorable one.
Before Penney is gone, he has a chance to leave
If the Badgers win 23 games, he would be a part of more victories than any Badgers player and could become the third Badger to play in four NCAA tournaments.
He is 65 points away from becoming the 27th
"I'm still trying to learn, still trying to improve every single time I step on that court," Penney said. "What's the next step? I don't know. I'm just going to go out there and hopefully anything that we've learned as a team throughout the summer or just with a year experience will rub off on each other and be a much more potent team."
A version of this story appeared in the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on