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Madison Capital Times; Madison, Wis.; Nov 29, 2002

 Rob Schultz The Capital Times;

Don't tell Kirk Penney that he's finally off to a good start in his final season with the University of Wisconsin basketball team.

The UW senior guard has terrorized opponents through the Badgers' first three games by averaging 19.7 points while shooting at a 50- percent clip overall (18-for-36) and an incredible 63.6 percent from 3-point range (7-of-11).

Yet Penney is hardly satisfied. As far as he's concerned, he has as much work to do as when he struggled early to find his game during each of his first three seasons with the Badgers.

"It'll come, my game is going to come," said Penney, sounding a familiar chord.

During the past two seasons, he was shooting around 35 percent overall and less than 30 percent from 3-point range over his first three games.

But Penney is thinking about more than his shooting. He is the team's third-leading rebounder but wants to improve in that area, particularly on the offensive end.

He wants to play with quicker feet on defense. And he wants to improve his free-throw shooting.

"I want to make them all. The list goes on," Penney said. "You just want to get better at everything you do. Like ball handling. There's nothing I'm satisfied with. But everybody on the team feels that way."

Few, however, are harder workers than the 6-foot-5 New Zealander, who needs to score just six points when the 25th-ranked Badgers (3- 0) play UW-Green Bay (1-2) Saturday afternoon at the Resch Center to become the 27th player in UW program history with 1,000 career points.

Where Penney's hard work has shown the most so far this season is with his jump shot. Although Penney has become one of the top guards in the Big Ten Conference by becoming stronger and adding an inside game to his repertoire, his improved release has given him an even stronger edge.

It allows him to take shots in situations where most others would consider themselves too closely guarded to even consider taking the shot.

"There's less motion in it. He doesn't dip it as much. He just catches it, sets his feet quickly and there's a quick release," said UW assistant coach Tony Bennett. "You might be closing in on him, but he catches it and it's off before you get there. That's real good."

It's a lot like Bennett's quick-fire shot, which isn't a surprise since he has been Penney's mentor ever since Bennett met him for the first time when he was living in New Zealand.

"It's all from working with Tony," Penney said of his improved release.

Bennett disagrees. He says it's from Penney's work ethic.

"You ask why he's such a good shooter. Well, he's probably shot the most shots on this team," Bennett said. "You've got to work at it. I don't care if you're a great shooter. You have to keep shooting it and repping it out.

"You look at guys in the NBA and they might not be great shooters but they make shots because you'd be amazed at how many reps they get at shootarounds and practice," added Bennett, who played for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets for three seasons before a foot injury ended his career. "In the NBA, it's shoot, shoot, shoot. There's something to be said for just shooting the ball."

What also impresses Bennett is that Penney is smart when he practices. "He practices game speed. He knows what he has to work at. He's really a worker. He gets his shot up in the summer."

Penney got plenty of opportunities to shoot last summer when he spent most of it with his New Zealand team preparing for the World Championships in Indianapolis. The Kiwis finished a surprising fourth as Penney averaged 16.9 points and 31.1 minutes a game and took yet another step toward proving to NBA scouts that he can play at the next level.

But Penney also leads every team he plays with in the amount of time he spends shooting when he's not even supposed to be near a gym. "If I feel like I want to work on it, I'll be in here in a second," he said after practice at the Kohl Center earlier this week.

Sometimes he shoots around to clear his head of thoughts that may have nothing to do with basketball. He has walked into the Kohl Center late at night and shot in the dark until he feels better.

"Basketball is not just a love. It's a way to get away from situations and think about things that are going on in your life," Penney said. "At one time or another, it runs through each other. You go to the game and find enjoyment in a win when maybe another part of your life is not enjoyable."

Shooting hoops by himself, Penney added, is a way to "put your mind somewhere else and focus on something you enjoy doing."

There's no question Penney is enjoying himself so far this season.

"He's a senior. He has played in the World Championships. He's confident, not cocky. He's more comfortable in the system, there's no question about that," said Bennett. "He has the right mindset. He just has to make this team win."

That's all that is on Penney's mind when he's on the basketball court. That's why he was unaware that he is off to a much better start this season statistically than in each of his first three seasons with the Badgers.

He was even unaware that he was closing in on that special 1,000- point barrier.

"I had no idea," he said.