Basketball: Olympic task made tougher for Tall Blacks

By Niall Anderson

Kirk Penney. Photo / Getty
Kirk Penney. Photo / Getty

A huge challenge awaits the Tall Blacks, and they will be going into battle without their giant-slaying weapon.

Kirk Penney, arguably the greatest ever Tall Black, has called time on a career in the black singlet that spanned 15 years. In doing so, he ruled himself out of contention for New Zealand's last-gasp chance at qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Debuting at 18, Penney shone throughout four world championships and two Olympic campaigns, starring as New Zealand's most potent scorer for more than a decade.

Peppering an array of overseas accomplishments and NBA stints in between his international appearances, Penney's name was synonymous with Tall Blacks overachievement.

The Westlake Boys' High product averaged 17 points a game in helping the Tall Blacks to fourth at the 2002 world championships, dominated as they took down Australia in 2009, and was the second-leading scorer at the 2010 world championships.

He has yet to slow down, with a superb season with the Illawarra Hawks keeping his hopes of continuing his international career alive, but he decided recently it was the right time to retire.

"It just got to a point where I was like, 'I think my time has come'," said Penney. "It was good to get it out of the way so the boys can have their moment and have their chance to make the Olympics. I don't want to in any way be a small shadow on that moment for them."

That moment will be a big one, with the Tall Blacks drawn to face the host nation Philippines and powerhouse France in their pool, with the top two sides progressing to the semifinals.

Make the semifinals, and the NBA-laden Turks and Canadians loom as potential opponents, with all having to be conquered to claim the one available Olympic spot.

New Zealand were already without their sole NBA player, Steven Adams, promising youngster Tai Wynyard is also unavailable and there's also doubt over Tai Webster.

While Penney would have been unlikely to start over Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie, his potent mix of experience and scoring will be irreplaceable, with the Tall Blacks now requiring a mix of the best locals to step up in his place.

While the temptation to have one last tour remained, Penney said he needs a full off-season to extend his professional career, which will continue in the form of a three-year deal with the New Zealand Breakers.

"Playing for New Zealand, I wouldn't trade it for the world, but it has taken its toll on my body. There's going to be some young New Zealander who takes my spot and he will be fresh and ready to go."

Who that will be is now the quandary facing Tall Blacks head coach Paul Henare. Dion Prewster, Ethan Rusbatch and Reuben Te Rangi are all in the mix to get minutes covering multiple positions and swingmen such as Everard Bartlett and Marcel Jones could be considered to try to replace Penney's scoring punch.

- NZ Herald

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