Kirk Penney remains hopeful of NBA spot

BY MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2010
Tall Blacks star Kirk Penney is to trial for the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.
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RELEASED: Kiwi NBA hopeful Kirk Penney has been cut loose by the San Antonio Spurs.

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It's so far, so good for New Zealand's NBA hopeful Kirk Penney even if he does remain in the dark over his prospects for picking up a roster spot on the San Antonio Spurs.

Penney spoke to New Zealand media from San Antonio yesterday three days into the Spurs' veterans' camp, declaring himself satisfied with his efforts so far and excited about getting the chance to prove himself in game situations next week.

Penney is one of eight players jostling for around three more roster spots left on the Spurs who carry 11 guaranteed contracts among their 18 players at camp. On the positive side they yesterday waived one of Penney's positional rivals (Thomas Gardner), further increasing his chances of making the breakthrough.

"It's really hard to know where you stand," said Penney who has been released by the NZ Breakers for one last tilt at his NBA dream. "I'm really looking forward to the games, and just want to be able to hang around long enough to play in them and show what I can do."

NBA experts have Penney on the cusp of making the Spurs final roster, battling for what's likely to be one remaining spot for a shooting guard capable of sliding into the small forward position. One knowledgeable blogger tipped him to make the cut and earn his first full NBA deal.

But the Tall Blacks star - second leading scorer overall at the recent world championships - said there's no way of knowing what the Spurs were looking for and how many spots they have to fill.

"There are a lot of variables involved, so all I'm trying to do is show what kind of player I am and just see where the cards fall after that," he said. "That's all I can do. I can't get involved in the numbers game because I really don't know what management are thinking."

Penney said it hasn't been a case of simply showing your stuff and looking to impress coach Gregg Popovich in the process, because training camp was about getting the Spurs ready for their long season ahead as much as it was whittling down the roster.

"You're trying to learn a lot, there's a system here, a nucleus of guys who have been in it for a number of years, so it's trying to catch up, understand where the reads are and how you can help this team."

It's the 29-year-old New Zealander's experience that may tip things in his favour as the Spurs make their final calls on squad makeup. He is a world-class shooter, moves well off the ball and won't be fooled into trying to do too much in a squad that includes one of the all-time greats in Tim Duncan and two other premier NBA performers in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

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"My team-mates have been so helpful," added the Kiwi. "The veterans like Parker and Ginobili, and guys who have just been here this summer, everyone's very supportive and everyone works hard from the former MVP (Duncan) to the guy who just joined the team from New Zealand."

But Penney was unequivocal on one thing - the stint is doing wonders for his game and confirms he's equipped to play at this level.

"You've got a lot of talented players here and to be able to measure myself against these guys is exactly where I want to be. I know on this team (among the non-guaranteed players) there isn't a player like me, who moves well of the ball.

"I know I'm very much at the level. It's just bringing it every day and showing that."

Penney is just hoping to make it through into the pre-season games which begin on October 7 when the Spurs visit the Houston Rockets.  It's then the microscope will really go on him.

"In a lot of ways I'm treading new water and I'm going to find out what I can do out here when the games start. I know I've come a long way and my game has improved. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes."

Every day he's called back brings him a day closer to making his dream. And for now that's his sole focus.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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