Kirk Penney yearns to be a Breaker again

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2012
Kirk Penney
BEN WATSON/Fairfax NZ
UNAVAILABLE: Kirk Penney has decided to take a break this off-season and will not play in either China or the Oceania series.

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Kiwi basketball superstar Kirk Penney says he'd love to play again for the New Zealand Breakers – though any return to the club he guided to their first Australian NBL title is likely to be at least a year away.

Penney, who revealed last week that he was pulling out of the Tall Blacks shot at the London Olympics in July, is back home for a short holiday.

In an exclusive interview he spoke about how proud he was of the Breakers' latest triumph, how agonising the decision had been to withdraw from the Olympic qualifying tournament in Caracas, and also the yearning he still has to return and play for his hometown club.

"I would love to play for the Breakers again one day," said Penney, who has just finished a season with Baloncesto Fuenlabrada in Spain's highly regarded ACB league. He averaged 14.4 points a game for the Madrid club, fifth best in the competition.

"It's a very special team," he said of the Breakers. "The fans understand it now, the players for a few years we've realised what's going on behind the scenes, what's being created. It's a very unique situation. I'm very proud to have played for them and I follow the Breakers as if I still play for them."

Penney said he watched the deciding game of this year's epic grand final series against the Perth Wildcats in Madrid, and felt deep satisfaction that the club had continued dominating the league in his absence.

"I was so thrilled. It was hard to watch, Perth were really, really tough and, man, anything could have happened in that third game. To see them pull it out just says so much for the coaching staff and for the players.

"A big part of it is the culture in the team. When you leave you recognise it even more. It's just this awesome culture the players want to be part of, the players wives want to be part of, and the fans want to get behind. It's very, very special, and regardless of what players come and go, if you keep that culture and personality of the club, it's going to breed success.

"And, yes, you do miss it when you're not part of it any more."

Penney felt the Breakers were in a great position for a title threepeat, regardless of whether they're able to bring back their outstanding import duo of Cedric Jackson and Gary Wilkinson.

"If you keep that culture, that humble approach and values, man, in life it breeds success. I'm sure they'll do a good job with personnel, they always seem to bring in good guys who are also very good basketball players."

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The North Shore native also noted the sellouts at Vector that made the Breakers the hottest ticket in town. "That's what my dream was when I was playing there, for them to enjoy that and experience it. Playing at Vector and having SkyCity as sponsor seems to have given it a real professional brand."

Penney said it had been an agonising decision to pull out of the Tall Blacks' upcoming campaign that will culminate in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela (July 2-8), but after twice tearing his calf muscle in Spain he felt he had to prioritise his recovery.

"It's very important I'm right for next season. I'm a free agent and you just want everything to be in the right place before you go into your next contract."

He is upbeat about New Zealand's prospects of earning a spot in London. "The timing of it's really weird, in the very middle of everyone's off-season. I'm thinking no-one's going to be in great form and if we can find a good rhythm leading in, you just never know."

The 31-year-old has no idea where he will play next year but is confident it will be somewhere in Europe. Wife Audra played professional volleyball in Madrid and wherever he ends up, the plan is for them both to secure teams.

He confirmed the NBA was "off the radar" and a return to Spain was preferred. "It's out of my control now. I've done my work and you just watch and wait."

- Sunday Star Times

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