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Wisconsin State Journal; Madison, Wis.; Nov 28, 2002

Vic Feuerherd Wisconsin State Journal;


When practice ended Wednesday afternoon at the Kohl Center, most of the members of the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team scattered for the brief respite offered by the celebration of Thanksgiving.

Most, that is, except for the two foreign-born players on the Badgers' roster - senior Kirk Penney and redshirt freshman Andreas Helmigk.

This is Penney's fourth Thanksgiving here; Helmigk's second. Penney, who is from New Zealand, has grown accustomed to the holiday tradition. Helmigk, from Austria, is still trying to figure it out.

The two passed in the downstairs hallway at the Kohl Center earlier this week and discussed this most American of holidays.

"Celebrating food," Helmigk said. "Celebrating having everything. Farming and stuff. I learned it in school in Austria, but I forgot it. It was a long time ago. Pilgrims came, something with food."

"It was actually the Pilgrims thanking the Indians, right?" Penney asked.

These are the Badgers' two basketball pilgrims.

Penney is the accomplished star, a returning All-Big Ten Conference player who in the first three games this season has averaged 19.7points and six rebounds per game.

"We're not just playing game by game," Penney said of the unbeaten Badgers. "We're trying to improve every time we hit the floor. If we're fortunate enough to be up by 20 points, we know we still have 5 or 10 minutes left to get even better. It's a matter of taking advantage of that opportunity."

Helmigk, though, is looking for an opportunity. The 6-foot-9 forward is not that much different than the group of Pilgrims who struggled against the elements of Massachusetts to get established in their new home.

Helmigk has played in all three games but his playing time has been sporadic, at best. In practice this week, he found himself demoted to the scout team that prepares the regulars for the upcoming game, in this case Saturday at UW-Green Bay.

"I'm doing OK, I think," Helmigk said, "but coach (Bo Ryan) doesn't have trust in me. He probably thinks I'm not ready. But I think I am."

Penney and Helmigk are invited to their respective girlfriends' homes for dinner today. The details had yet to be set, but each knew indulging in a hearty meal of turkey and all the fixings doesn't mix well with the requirement that they be back at the Kohl Center by 5p.m. for a 6p.m. practice.

That's not going to keep Penney from enjoying the activities, though, which include the football games on television. Penney has become a real fan of the American version of the game, thanks to his teammate and roommate, junior center Dave Mader.

This Thanksgiving will be different for Helmigk. Last year, he spent the day with his mother while recovering from knee surgery that forced him to the sidelines.

"I was laying in bed with my knee," he said. "I didn't do anything."

He is still trying to adjust to what he affectionately called "an American thing."

"I'm getting more used to the American style, but I'm still Austrian," he said, pounding his chest for emphasis. "The American style is definitely different than the Austrian, different than the European. It's hard to describe."

It's not hard for Penney to describe his growing affection for the tradition.

"To me, it's a time when friends come together, share each other's company and give thanksgiving for everyone," Penney said. "I'm going to enjoy some good turkey, gravy, potatoes and pumpkin pie. It's great."