As his 20-minute, 22-point outburst against Slovakia's Bemaco SPU Nitra in the FIBA Eurochallenge demonstrated, put Kirk Penney on a basketball court anywhere on the planet he will score points in a hurry.
Before heading to Spain to play for Fuenlabrada this season Penney was a little apprehensive. He knew he was good enough to have a big impact, but he was returning to a Spanish and European scene where he hadn’t achieved what he wanted the first time around.
From 2003 to 2007, with a stint with the Los Angeles Clippers wedged in between, the 1.95m shooting guard jumped between Gran Canaria, Macabbi Tel Aviv, Zalgiris Kaunas and ALBA Berlin.
While his overall average was in double figures, Penney was a complementary player, often coming off the bench to provide an offensive spark.
The story was similar for the New Zealand national team. While an extremely valuable member of the surging Tall Blacks, KP was usually the third option behind star veterans Phill Jones and Pero Cameron.
Not that Penney was unhappy with his role or contribution, but he is a meticulous worker who expects extremely high levels of himself.
In 2007, he headed home to Auckland’s North Shore to join the New Zealand Breakers, who play in Oceania’s top competition, the Australian NBL.
Under the guidance of now Australia Boomers assistant coach Andrej Lemanis, Penney set to work making himself more than a shooter.
First season he finished third in the NBL in scoring, feeling right at home as the Breakers ran very similar offensive sets to the Tall Blacks.
As he slowly added pull-up and driving moves to his deadly catch-and-shoot, Penney moved into the elite in the competition, claiming two straight scoring titles.
His progress began to show on the international stage too.
After averaging 12.1 points a game across the four Olympics and FIBA World Championships from 2000 to 2006, Penney showed he was becoming an international superstar at the inaugural FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, scoring at 20.7 points a game in a vastly undermanned Kiwi team.
In 2009 he showed just how far his all-around game had come, recording 47 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds in two games as New Zealand shocked the Aussies in the FIBA Oceania Championship.
The clean-cut shooter unleashed 37 points on Day 1 against eventual bronze medallists Lithuania, before scoring 16 points in the first 16 minutes against Spain on Day 2.
Penney finished second at the tournament in scoring, nailing 24.7 points a game at 46 per cent from the field, while finding time to hand out two assists per game.
Remarkably, his lowest score was 18, and his efforts earned him a trial with the San Antonio Spurs.
Penney had long yearned to return to the NBA and get meaningful minutes, and true to form he scored nine points in 16 minutes in his first practice game.
The dream ended there for Kirk though, as the Spurs unexpectedly released him immediately afterwards and no other NBA club expressed interest.
After a brief mourning period Penney returned to New Zealand, claiming another NBL scoring crown with 20.7 points a game in the regular season, before leading the Breakers to their first championship.
The win was his country’s first in any Australian professional sporting competition, driving interest in basketball sky-rocketing. Attendance at Breakers games has increased more than 60 per cent, including a New Zealand record basketball crowd of 6900 at their first home game.
Penney, of course, isn’t there to enjoy it. With the much-desired ring on his finger he decided to again tackle the European challenge – and that’s where the apprehension arose.
In the Tall Blacks’ and Breakers’ systems Penney is a blur. Constant movement off screens, cutting back door and streaking for transition triples. His previous experience in Europe told him the offences would be run very differently at Fuenlabrada.
So far, Penney has showed that he truly is a superstar of the sport. He has made the adjustment seamlessly, averaging 16.9 points at 50 per cent across his first 11 ACB and Eurochallenge games, ranking third in the elite Spanish competition.
That’s good news for Kiwi fans, because they want Penney in form for some time to come. You see at 31, this sharp-shooter is a man waiting for his countrymen to catch up.
Further down the track, the team who claimed gold at the first FIBA 3 x 3 World Championship, led by Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster, are also on their way to representing New Zealand at the highest level.
The question is how long can Penney stay at his sublime best? Long enough to combine with the exciting young talent coming through? If he can, the Tall Blacks will be a tough proposition at the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
For now, though, their chances of qualifying for the London Olympics lie largely with the shooting hand and tireless legs of Kirk Penney.