Penney Prepares for World Championships

Wisconsin senior Kirk Penney leads New Zealand into the World Championships at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Wisconsin senior Kirk Penney and his New Zealand teammates are winding down their preparations for the upcoming World Basketball Championship for Men. The Kiwis played eight exhibition games, with Penney leading the way, scoring 20.8 points per game. New Zealand compiled a 2-6 record against France, Yugoslavia, Germany, Lithuania, Canada and Brazil.

The 16-team World Championship tips off on Thursday, Aug. 29 and runs through Sunday, Sept. 8. The event is being held at the Conseco Fieldhouse and the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind. This is just New Zealand's second-ever appearance at the World Championships.

The teams are split into four groups, which will play a round-robin format. New Zealand is in Group D, joined by Argentina, Russia and Venezuela. The Kiwis open play against Russia on Aug. 29, then play Venezuela the next day, followed by a game with Argentina on Aug. 31. The top three teams in each group advance to the second round. The second round is also round-robin, with the top four teams advancing to the quarterfinals. Former Badger Michael Finley will also compete at the tournament, playing for Team USA. For more information, visit www.2002worldbasketball.com.

New Zealand began its exhibition tour by dropping a pair of games in France. Penney scored 26 points in each game against the 2000 Olympic silver medalists, earning praise from the French coach.

"I think he will be a historical player for New Zealand," said French coach Alain Weisz. "He is ‘mondiale,' first class."

The Kiwis then scored one of the biggest wins in their history, defeating reigning world champion Yugoslavia 81-79 in the first round of the Super Cup in Germany. Penney contributed 18 points in the victory. That was followed by an 83-74 loss to Germany, with Penney leading the way with 17 points. On the defensive end, Penney spent much of the game matched up with German star Dirk Nowitzki after the New Zealand big men fell into foul trouble. Nowitzki, a second-team All-NBA performer last year, finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds. New Zealand finished the Super Cup with an 85-75 loss to Lithuania with Penney scoring 15 points.

Before traveling to Indianapolis, New Zealand slit a pair of games with Canada, dropping the first contest 75-72 then bouncing back for an 84-81 victory the next night. In the opener, Penney accounted for 26 points, including five three-pointers. Penney then scored 20 points in the Kiwis' win. In their final tune-up before the start of the tournament, the Kiwis fell 83-73 to Brazil in Indianapolis, with Penney again pacing the team with 18 points.

"He is really a great player," New Zealand coach Tab Baldwin said after the first Canada game. "Kirk has been a workhorse for us through our preparation and had another good game tonight."

Penney, a first-team all-Big Ten selection last year, is no stranger to international competition. In 2000, he became the first UW men's basketball player to compete in the Olympics. Last summer he was the leading scorer on New Zealand's Goodwill Games team, averaging 14.8 points per game and leading the Kiwis to a sixth-place finish. That included an overtime upset of eventual silver medalist Brazil in the preliminary round in which Penney scored 23 points.

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