Kirk Penney may only be a a sophomore on a team filled with senior starters, but his importance on this year's basketball squad is not to be underminded.
When Penney has played well this season, the Badgers have, too. The sophomore has averaged nearly 11 points per game in the 11 Badger victories. However, in the four Badger losses this season, Penney has averaged fewer than five points.
Penney's emergence this season and his development this year may be attributed to his memorable basketball experience this past year.
Penney entered this season fresh off an appearance in the 2000 Summer Olympics for his native New Zealand. Although New Zealand finished 11th, the Olympics served as a learning experience and a time of growth for Penney.
The 20-year-old competed against mainly older and better players, many of whom played professionally.
\That experience is something I looked forward to for so long, and just accomplishing that gives you a lot of confidence and knowing you played against the best players in the world,"" Penney said.
After traveling more than 55,000 miles over the summer during his Olympic experience and the Badger team trip to Italy, Penney has become a seasoned road warrior.
However, the road so far this season has not been so friendly for Penney. He has been a different player away from the Kohl Center, shooting only 25 percent and averaging fewer than five points a game.
At home, Penney has averaged more than 13 points per game and shot over 55 percent, propelling Wisconsin to a 7-0 record at the Kohl Center.
Even before his Olympic experience, the Auckland, New Zealand, native could be considered more than just the average freshman. In fact, by playing in a Wisconsin freshman record 34 games and averaging 10 points per game in contests he started, Penney has made an impact in his first season on the collegiate level.
Now, as a sophomore, Penney has looked to increase his role as a scorer. Penney has led the Badgers in scoring three times this year in his 12 starts, including a career-high 24 points against Xavier. Although he has taken a new role this year and has become one of the primary offensive options, Penney does not feel any extra weight on him individually to perform.
""I don't see it as added pressure,"" Penney said. ""I see it as we are such a unit and such a team that all of the pressure just falls on all of us. There is no one person who has to take any more than anyone else. We are a team and we play as a team.""
The reason that Penney is a part of the Wisconsin team is Tony Bennett, a Badger assistant coach and son of former head coach Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett coached Penney before his collegiate days in New Zealand and recruited Penney to come to Madison.
Penney cites his experience playing college basketball here in the States as the biggest step in his basketball career. Penney had hoped to play college ball in the United States and Tony Bennett made that possible.
""I wanted to play over here [United States] and [Tony Bennett] really gave me this path and this opportunity,"" Penney said.
Penney has been given his opportunity and seems to be a perfect fit in an offensive system that caters to prolific shooters such as Penney.
While the reasons for his shooting woes away from the Kohl Center court are unclear, any points that Penney can produce only help a Wisconsin team that often finds itself with a rather inept offense.
Although Penney has been influential in the scoring increase of the Badgers by more than five points per game, maintaining this production throughout the second half of the season is paramount, especially if Wisconsin expects to succeed in the NCAA Tournament.