CHICAGO – For the second straight year, Kirk Penney sat alone at a table at Big Ten Media Day, fielding questions about himself and the rest of the Wisconsin team.
Penney, whose thick New Zealand accent and affable attitude make him one of the most charismatic players in the conference, sat by himself, while some other schools sent as many as four players to represent their teams. But this was only fitting for Penney, who has been one of the few constants for the Badgers in the last three years.
The only returning first-team All-Big Ten player from last season, Penney was an obvious choice for both the coaches and the media as a preseason all-conference selection. But the 6-foot-5 guard does not let the early accolades go to his head, or even think about them much for that matter.
“It isn’t something you really want to dwell on,” Penney said. “You are a part of a team, you’re not an individual and if you ever think that’s not the case, then you are subtracting from what the team is trying to accomplish.”
As a senior, Penney is ready to lead and teach the younger players on the team, something his experience and personality make him more than qualified to do.
Penney “doesn’t do anything half-way,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “In personality, socially, he’s an A. Work habits, he’s an A. Leadership, he’s an A. He just does everything well … The rest of the players look at him and say ‘Wow, that’s what it takes to be pretty good.’ I’m hoping all of them say, ‘This is what we have to do.'”
Penny was the first Badger to be named a first-team All-Big Ten selection since Michael Finley in 1993. Last February against Minnesota, en route to a share of the Big Ten title, the Badgers first since 1947, Penny poured in a conference-best 27 second-half points.
Golden boy: Rick Rickert was there when Penney took over in the second half against Minnesota. As a freshman, he watched as the Badgers avenged the loss to the Golden Gophers a month before. But now, a year older and a little bit stronger – Rickert put on 10 pounds in the offseason – the Big Ten coaches tabbed Rickert as the preseason conference player of the year. But like Penney, Rickert does not concern himself with any preseason recognition.
“That’s a great honor,” Rickert said. “It is something to look at and say, ‘Yeah that’s great.’ But the goal, the focus is obviously my team, not me. I’ve got to keep that in perspective and focus on my team.”
Last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year has gotten even better, a scary thought for opposing coaches.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger and fitter,” Rickert said. “I’ve put on some weight, and I’ve gotten quicker. Just every aspect seems to get better every year.”