Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Basketball: Breakers-bound Penney mum on Tall Blacks return

Kirk Penney in action for the Illawarra Hawks against the New Zealand Breakers. Photo/Getty.
Kirk Penney in action for the Illawarra Hawks against the New Zealand Breakers. Photo/Getty.

The Breakers are celebrating the return of a treasured son with veteran Kiwi basketball star Kirk Penney confirming he has signed a three year deal with the Auckland ANBL club.

In a major boost to their title ambitions, the 1.96m Penney has left the Illawarra Hawks to be re-united with a clutch of players he won the Breakers' first title with in 2011. But Penney, who has played at two Olympics, has yet to reveal if he will return to the Tall Backs, who play a Rio qualification tournament in the Philippines in July.

The 35-year-old - who has played around the world and became just the second New Zealander to appear in the glamour American NBA - was drawn back to his hometown team for family reasons and by the old friends who now lead the Breakers.

The Auckland-raised Penney was central to the Breakers' first title when he averaged 20 points a game over the season, before he headed to Europe and pursued a series of short term deals.

His former national and club team mates Paul Henare, the Breakers' new head coach who is also in charge of the Tall Blacks, and Dillon Boucher, who has taken over as general manager, were pivotal to his decision.

"They are old friends and good friends, we've been through a lot together," said Penney, from his other home in Wisconsin.

"When you've played on the Tall Blacks and Breakers together as long as we have, you build a pretty strong bond and both those guys have had my back at times. For me to come and play with them is a pleasure, something I'm really excited about. And I certainly plan on playing some good basketball, not just limping over the line."

The re-signing of Penney says something about the way the Breakers - this year's beaten finalists - have operated. The other players on the confirmed roster are Mika Vukona, Thomas Abercrombie, Alex Pledger and Corey Webster, who were all there in 2011 along with Henare and Boucher.

Penney, who played a handful of games for the Miami Heat and LA Clippers in the NBA over a decade ago, has seen the world since then, with a CV that includes teams in Spain, Israel, Lithuania, Germany and Turkey. He deliberately sought out short term deals - he even opted out of the second year of a contract in Israel - preferring a life experiencing different cultures.

Kirk and his wife Audra now have little Olivia, and the timing has proved perfect for a return home.

"I've maintained a great relationship with the club since I last played with them," he said.

"When I first left, I thought I'd definitely come back but over the five years, there have been moments or two when I thought 'no way', this will probably have a different kind of finish. But when Pauly took the reins and Dillon came in, straight away there was some banter about how they wanted me to be part of it again.

"At this point in the career, you really want to enjoy the game, the journey of a season.
The highs and lows will come...you just try to be supportive of the players, encourage them, enjoy the winning and try to pick everyone else up when there are some losses."

A delighted Henare said: "Kirk is one of the game's premier scorers as was seen last season with a standout season for Illawarra.

"He has always been a player to look after himself and it is that professional attitude and work ethic that will be of huge benefit to us on court, but also in bringing leadership qualities off court.

"What's more we have Kirk on a three-year deal that will enable him to see out his career back home and for us to build into the next chapter."

Boucher said: "We couldn't be more excited and that excitement is spreading very quickly throughout our membership and stake holders. Paul is building something very special."

- NZ Herald

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