One of the all-time greats to play basketball for his country, Kirk Penney has officially called time on his international career, bringing the curtain down on a Tall Blacks record that spanned 15 years and included two Olympic Games and four World Championship campaigns.
Penney has made the news official just under a week out from the naming of the Tall Blacks touring party that will attempt a last ditch qualification for the Rio Olympic Games, saying that now feels the right time to end the speculation and allow the next generation to take centre stage.
"It has been difficult to make the call to retire from the Tall Blacks. I wanted to keep the option alive as it has meant so much to me and been a big part of my life for so long. I wanted to be sure that this was the right time. I believe it is and I believe the talented generation coming though can take the Tall Blacks to greater heights in the years ahead.
"In retiring from the Tall Blacks I want to thank the players and coaches that came before me. They paved the way for the teams I was fortunate enough to play on, giving us the ability to compete at a level never seen before. It has taken decades and so much commitment from so many guys.
"I also want to wish the current Tall Blacks the very best in the great challenge they have this year to qualify for Rio."
One of only three New Zealanders to feature in the NBA, shooting guard Penney made his New Zealand debut in 1999 at the tender age of 18, his precocious and pure shooting talent ensuring that he would go on to be a regular pick throughout the 2000's as New Zealand enjoyed a golden run with a golden group of athletes. During that time the Tall Blacks played at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, finished fourth at the 2002 FIBA World Champs and played at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The team would also feature at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain - in what will prove to be his swansong at the top level.
Penney shares some of those great memories, shared with some great players and friends along the way.
"I remember listening as Coach Keith Mair read through the names of the team that would represent New Zealand at the 2000 Olympic Games. We were in a small room filled with New Zealand basketball royalty, it was my name he read last, and it felt like the greatest moment of my life.
"Since that moment, I have been fortunate enough to have had a long international career. Sharing experiences with guys that words can't express. Laughing and rejoicing with the incredible victories and feeling the pain and tears of the difficult losses. I am so grateful to have been able to play at this level, and I am so thankful to all my Tall Black coaches for the opportunity and the gift of knowledge. Various support staff members that worked tirelessly to keep us out on court representing our country. BBNZ staff for working with so little at times to make it all possible. And to all my teammates who were always there for me as we shared a culture of selflessness and passion, it has been so special to be a part of. The Tall Blacks are more than a team; they are a family of great people who will always share this incredible bond.
"I want to thank my wife and family, for their countless sacrifices and constant support, and the friends who have traveled near and far to support the Tall Blacks around the world.
"No challenge is quite as enjoyable as climbing the mountain of being the best in the world with a group of countrymen who have your back. A modern day Chunuk Bair.
"I loved representing New Zealand on the world stage and it saddens me to think I will not be pulling on the #6 Tall Blacks jersey again... But I still have some basketball to play in my professional career with the Breakers, so as one of my favourite chapters closes, one lives on.
"In the near future I look forward to the Tall Blacks team being announced next week. Then watching them achieve some great works, making our country proud. I know they will with Paulie at the helm and Mika leading from the front. Good skills fellas."
Current Tall Blacks Head Coach and former teammate Paul Henare spoke in glowing terms of one of the best sportsmen this country has produced, let alone basketball.
"Kirk's career both internationally and professionally highlights his amazing achievements spanning three decades. He was a world class shooter at the highest level and is still one of the best today. I have never met a more meticulous athlete in terms of always doing what is right for his body and performance, something borne out in his ability to still shoot with the best in the game at 35 years of age. I think this is a huge part of why he has been so good for such a long time. The Tall Blacks will miss him but his legacy will live on forever."
Penney is returning to New Zealand in August to begin pre-season training with the Breakers, having signed a three year deal with the four time NBL Championship winning club. In the process Penney will be returning to where it all began with Westlake Boys High and as a 17 year old when he was named NZ NBL Rookie of the Year with the North Harbour Kings.
Kirk Penney, New Zealand Career Highlights
Penney debuted for the New Zealand national basketball team in 1999 at the age of 18 and has now represented the Tall Blacks at two Olympic Games (in 2000 and 2004) and three FIBA World Championships (2002, 2006 and 2010) and the FIBA World Cup in 2014.
Penney was part of the Tall Blacks' memorable 2002 World Championships campaign as they surprised the world and finished fourth. Penney averaged 16.9 points per game and hit 45.5% of his three-point shots.
Penney captained New Zealand to victory in the 2009 FIBA Oceania Championship, beating Australia 177-162 on aggregate, after the two-match tie was drawn 1-1. Penney was influential in both games, with 23 points and 4 assists in Game 1, and a 24 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 2, thus winning the Al Ramsay Shield.
In the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, Penney was the second leading scorer with 24.7 points per game. New Zealand also went through to the elimination rounds with a 3-2 record.
Penney participated for New Zealand at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain and averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in six games
Kirk Penney Playing Career in Summary
· 1998-2000 North Harbour Kings
· 2000-2003 University of Wisconsin USA
· 2003 Miami Heat NBA
· 2003-2004 Gran Canaria, Spain
· 2004 Asheville Altitude USA
· 2004-2005 Los Angeles Clippers NBA
· 2005 Asheville Altitude USA
· 2005-2006 Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel
· 2006-2007 Žalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania
· 2007 ALBA Berlin, Germany
· 2007-2010 New Zealand Breakers
· 2010 Sioux Falls Skyforce USA
· 2010-2011 New Zealand Breakers
· 2011-2012 Baloncesto Fuenlabrada, Spain
· 2012-2013 TED Ankara Kolejliler, Turkey
· 2013-2014 Trabzonspor, Turkey
· 2015 Baloncesto Sevilla, Spain
· 2015-2016 Illawarra Hawks
· 2016-present New Zealand Breakers
Career highlights and awards
· All-NBL Second Team (2016)
· 2× TBL All-Star (2013, 2014)
· 2× TBL Three-Point Shootout champion (2013, 2014)
· NBL champion (2011)
· NBL MVP (2009)
· 4× All-NBL First Team (2008-2011)
· Baltic League All-Star (2007)
· Lithuanian League cup (2007)
· Israeli League champion (2006)
· Israeli League cup (2006)
· NBA D-League champion (2005)
· AP honorable mention All-American (2003)
· 2× First-team All-Big Ten (2002, 2003)
· 2x Big Ten chamion (2002,2003)
· Playing in the NCAA Final Four (2000)
· New Zealand NBL Most Outstanding Kiwi Guard (1999)
· New Zealand NBL Rookie of the Year (1998)