Basketball: Penney keen to break away from OE for return to club that he loves

By Michael Brown

Kirk Penney knows the money is in Europe but admires the Breakers. Photo / Greg Bowker
Kirk Penney knows the money is in Europe but admires the Breakers. Photo / Greg Bowker

There was a time when many wondered how the Breakers would cope without Kirk Penney.

Three straight ANBL titles has proved they managed just fine, but it might not be too long before the club's all-time leading points scorer and former league MVP pulls on a Breakers singlet for a second stint.

It probably won't happen next season, although new coach Dean Vickerman sounded him out about the idea in case Tom Abercrombie lands an NBA deal in the coming weeks; but it could happen 12 months later and Penney is enthusiastic about the idea.

"Definitely," he says emphatically while on a brief visit to Auckland this week. "They're a wonderful club to play for and are about a little bit more than just basketball. They're making an incredibly positive impact on the community. I love playing here and the success they're having is really elevating the game of basketball in New Zealand."

Penney played a key role in that, helping them to their first title in 2010/11 before exercising an out-clause in his contract and signing to play for Baloncesto Fuenlabrada in Spain.

The Spanish league is considered one of the best behind the NBA and it's also one of the most lucrative to play in, or it was until the country's economy took a dive.

Penney is still chasing unpaid wages which helped convince him to move to Turkey for the last European season where things were a little more settled.

He played for Ankara Kolejliler, helping them to seventh in the 16-team league, but is now a free agent which is piquing the interest of the Breakers.

At 32, however, Penney knows he needs to cash in while he can and intends returning to Europe for the next season, which starts in August. It's not all about money, but it's a major consideration, and he sees his immediate future back in Turkey.

Penney's goals have changed through the years. It was once all about the NBA - he played a handful of games for the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers in 2003 and 2004 and went to try-outs on a number of occasions - but he seems entirely comfortable with the direction his career has taken.

He's in something of an OE phase, playing in Spain (twice), the US, Israel, Lithuania, Germany, New Zealand and Turkey, and sees basketball as "a form of transport" that gets him and wife Audra, a former professional volleyball player, around.

"I haven't looked upon it as giving up [on my NBA aspirations]," he says. "You have your goals and your dreams, and hurdles come in the way and you look at other goals and dreams.

"Right now, my goals and dreams are European-based. I guess I have branched off to the path that has been shown to me.

"You're willing to accept there are a lot of good opportunities out there and the NBA is the pinnacle, but Europe offers some incredible leagues and incredibly good incomes for a lot of guys.

"I'm very comfortable with that and fortunate to have that as another option. I'm also fortunate to have the Breakers as an option, too. To play for the Breakers and play in Europe are still wonderful options.

"I've experienced all three (NBA, Europe, Australasia) and know what all three have to offer and I'm very comfortable with the road I'm on."

That road will probably see Penney skip the Tall Blacks' Oceania championships campaign in August as he takes a break from the game.

- APNZ

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