The forecast says mostly sunny but make no mistake, Rob Beveridge is making it rain right now in Illawarra.
Recruited to lead the Hawks back to life after its recent near-death experience, the well-connected coach has wasted little time assembling a championship contending roster.
First it was AJ Ogilvy.
Then Kevin Lisch.
And now, after bringing back last year’s Aussie core, Bevo’s locked up Kirk Freaking Penney.
I mean, what the hell? Has Bevo secretly spent these past two years recruiting? Grooming former players and favourite foes for his return to the spotlight?
Probably not, but the result of his recent efforts working the phones is a stacked line-up for the Illawarra faithful to enjoy.
Penney played four seasons with the New Zealand Breakers from 2007-2011, taking out the ’09 MVP and leading the Breakers to their first NBL championship in ’11. He received All-NBL First Team honours each and every season in the league.
NZ coach Dean Vickerman met with Penney in Spain earlier this year to discuss his future plans, fuelling rumours of a potential return to the Breakers.
But I’m afraid not. Bevo has got his man. Again. And the Hawks have now recruited two former MVPs in the past three weeks.
Owner James Spencely quite clearly loves it…Interestingly, the Kiwi actually had one of his finest NBL performances against Beveridge in Game 2 of the 2011 Semi Finals Series between Perth and NZ. Penney dropped 38 points that night – in Perth – and Bevo sounded like a man in love when talking about him postgame.
(Just quietly, I love this clip… Damian Martin guarded Penney for much of that game; check out his fidgety reaction when Bevo says the Wildcats were beaten almost solely by his matchup. It’s hilarious, Damo looks like a nervous Grade Six kid copping a serve in the Principal’s office)
Following his stint with the Breakers, Penney played for Baloncesto Fuenlabrada in Spain before taking his talents to Turkey where he played with TED Ankara Kolejliler and Trabzonspor. He was a Turkish League All-Star in both 2013 and 2014.
This past year, Penney returned to Spain’s ACB - generally considered the second-best league in the world behind the NBA. He was a late-season pickup for Sevilla, where he teamed with recent NBA lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis.
Sevilla were 3-15 when Penney arrived, but his inclusion paid almost instant dividends. They went 9-7 with the Kiwi in uniform, finishing 12-22 overall and narrowly avoiding relegation.
Despite playing only half the year (he missed the first half to return to Wisconsin to finish his university degree), Penney was his usual dynamic self for Sevilla. He averaged a team-leading 11 points per game, scoring double-digits in half of his 18 games (including two Eurocup games).
Always lethal from long range, Penney nailed 43% of his 5.4 3PA per game.
His best night came late in the year when he put up 22 points (6/10 threes), 7 boards, 3 dimes and a steal in a close loss to Brad Newley’s (and Aleks Maric’s) Gran Canaria.
(Blink and you’ll miss Penney in this clip but check out the one-handed throw down from Porzingis late …)
As for Penney’s fit in the Warra, don’t sweat the technique. He may be a shooting guard in the taller European leagues but he’ll comfortably slide over to the three with the Hawks when required. Remember, he ran alongside guards Paul Henare, Kevin Braswell and CJ Bruton during NZ’s 2011 championship run.
What about his senior-citizenship? After all, Penney will turn 35 midway through this season, so he’s clearly not building for the future. Nonetheless, there’s nothing in his recent ACB play or at last year’s FIBA World Cup to suggest that he’s over the hill. Far from it.
The addition of Penney gives Beveridge a potential starting line-up of Martin, Lisch, Penney, Forman and Ogilvy with legit rotation options like Davidson and Coenraad off the pine.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget he’s also got a second import slot still up his sleeve, with plenty of player points to spare.
As for the salary cap… well… as usual… who knows?
It’s a squad that looks very, exciting on paper. Surrounding a Martin/Ogilvy pick and roll with Lisch, Penney and Forman will be deadly late in the shot-clock, while Coenraad and Davidson will continue to space the floor off the bench. Expect Ogilvy to feast near the rim with all those snipers stretching the defense around him.
There are question marks at the other end, though, especially when you consider Beveridge’s usual high-pressure defensive approach. It’s a roster stacked with seasoned pros, yes, but very few of the kind of lock-down defenders that Bevo has won with before. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes about it, although he told us recently to expect the expected.
“I’ve been coaching that style for 20-odd years with tremendous success,” he told Downtown. “It’s who I am, it’s what I do. We’ll definitely be playing pressure basketball.”
The bottom line here is that Illawarra is back from the dead. Are they suddenly the title favourites? That’s tough to say - especially with some key import slots still to be filled around the league - but they’re certainly right in amongst it.
The Hawks are like the zombies of the NBL… from scary dead to dead scary almost overnight.