Kirk Penney thrilled to be back with Tall Blacks
After a two-year Tall Blacks hiatus, a refreshed Kirk Penney is ready to spearhead New Zealand's giantkilling efforts at next month's World Cup in Spain.
The 33-year-old shooting guard has skipped the last two years of international play to rest his body following the rigours of the European club season.
But he was never going to miss out on the fun this year and the chance to replicate the memorable fourth-placed finish at the 2002 world championships.
Penney was the wide-eyed rookie back then; now the seasoned pro will carry the burden as New Zealand's best player, with Steven Adams continuing his NBA education over summer with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
''I'm really excited to be back with the crew,'' Penney said yesterday after the Tall Blacks completed their first training session at St Pat's Silverstream.
''Playing for New Zealand is very important for me, playing for the Tall Blacks is special. That was a big appeal for me, to play against the world's best again and see what we can do. The last three World Cups we've had good showings, we've made it through pool play and into the knockout rounds.
"We went further in 2002 but in '06 and '10 it wasn't a bad showing either. I'm hoping we can do a similar thing here and get into the knockout stages. You never know, anything can happen.''
The world No 19 Tall Blacks open a three-game home series against 31st-ranked Korea at Wellington's TSB Arena on Tuesday.
They then tour Korea, China, Lithuania and Serbia before opening the World Cup against Turkey in Bilbao on August 30.
The Nenad Vucinic-coached side also faces the Dominican Republic, the United States, Ukraine and Finland in pool play.
''It is early so it's hard to say in terms of how good we're going to be,'' Penney said.
''But you have to believe we can compete, as we always have. We have a good balance of veterans and young players and I think that's always important.
"It was great having a break the past couple of off-seasons but this year with the World Cup, I couldn't resist. I had to be a part of it. And it's not very often that Kiwis get to see the Tall Blacks at home so I'm looking forward to that.''
Penney is a free agent after completing his second season in Turkey with Trabzonspor.
He wants to sign a new deal in Europe before the World Cup tips off.
''It has to be [Europe] - I mean where else am I going to play? I'm not going to be in the States, unfortunately ... the opportunity to play ball over there and make these salaries doesn't last long.''
The Koreans arrive in Wellington tomorrow.
Vucinic said Asia's third-ranked team was highly organised, with good shooters and disciplined players.
''But it's our country, our turf and we certainly don't want to lose to them,'' Vucinic said.
The Dominion Post