Originally published in SLAM 163

by Lang Whitaker / @langwhitaker

It only took a few years for Kenneth Faried to go from sitting in the stands, watching Half-Man, Half-Amazing play NBA games in his backyard, to playing in League games himself like some ferocious half-man, half-animal hybrid. These days, Faried, a Nuggets forward, is fresh off a rookie season that saw him go from buried on the bench to a spot on the All-Rookie team. Yet for the almost 23-year-old Faried, it’s been all about the journey.

He grew up in Newark, NJ, but had to travel to rural Kentucky (where he attended Morehead State) to find his path to NBA success in Denver. He went from being a mostly overlooked recruit to a collegiate second-team All-American, as well as the NCAA all-time rebounding leader (post-1973, when the NCAA split into Divisions). Despite Faried establishing himself as a gifted college player, many NBA teams thought he was too short (6-8) or too slight (225 pounds), and he dropped to Denver with the 22nd pick of the 2011 Draft.

Even after making it to the NBA and fulfilling his dream, his story was just beginning. After totaling just 20 minutes in Denver’s first 21 games, Faried muscled his way into the rotation, and he finished the season averaging 10 points, nearly 8 boards per and drawing raves around the League for having a motor without an off switch.

As he’s proved again and again, you can’t knock Kenneth Faried’s hustle. When we caught up with Faried on the phone recently,  he was down in Houston working out with Hakeem Olajuwon, the Hall-of-Fame center who has established a rep as the preeminent post tutor for today’s NBA bigs. The Dream might be able to show Faried some footwork or post moves, but it’s doubtful he’ll be able to teach him anything about hustle. And with the Nuggets making their own moves this summer to pump up their pace, Faried should be even more of a Manimal next season.

SLAM: This time a year ago, when you were getting ready to come into the League, what sort of expectations did you have for yourself?

Kenneth Faried: I hold myself to high standards, and I believe that if I put my best foot forward, I can reach every goal that I want.

SLAM: People often equate early basketball success with height. Were you always one of the tallest kids on your team?

KF: Not always [laughs]. I was tall, but I wasn’t as tall as some of the other guys. When I was a freshman I wasn’t as tall as some of the seniors. When I was in seventh and eighth grade I wasn’t as tall as some of the other guys on the team. I was strong, but I just kept growing every year. My mother always said I grew an inch or two inches every summer. Every team I went to I had to prove myself, including when I got to the NBA.

SLAM: Did you watch a lot of basketball growing up?

KF: I always watched the NBA. I never watched college games. My friends always said, “How are you going to be ready to play in college?” Because I never watched college basketball, I always watched NBA basketball.

SLAM: You were in Jersey, so were you a Knicks or Nets fan?

KF: Both! I used to go to way more Nets games than Knicks games, but I was a fan of both. When I was younger, my high school got free tickets to go to Nets games, and I always would be there cheering, watching, especially when they had guys like Jason Kidd and guys like Vince Carter, Kenyon Martin…

SLAM: Kerry Kittles, Todd MacCulloch…

KF: You know it! Man, those Championship days, when we should have won the Finals but lost to the Lakers and San Antonio in back-to-back years. I remember! Not many people were going to see that team play, except when they hit the Playoffs—then everybody else wanted to go, and I couldn’t go anymore.

SLAM: You were under the radar a little bit when it came time to get recruited by colleges, right?

KF: Not a little bit under the radar, I was way under the radar. Nobody was aware of my school—I went to a small school called Technology High School. Everybody would say, “He’s good, but how good is he?” People said the competition level was not that good. I didn’t go to a school like a West Side, or a Shabazz, or the triangle of St. Benedict’s, St. Anthony, St. Pat’s, so there was nobody that I could play. And I was a skinny kid. I played center at my school, so people thought I was undersized, I needed to get stronger. People thought my athleticism was not going to cut it. Everybody doubted me. Plus I didn’t have the grades, so that didn’t help. Big schools just wanted to redshirt me or send me to prep school. The only school that took a chance on me was Morehead. They believed in me. So I returned the favor.

SLAM: Who was your favorite NBA player growing up?

KF: Well, I liked Charles Oakley. I liked Barkley. Patrick Ewing. Dennis Rodman. When I was growing up I liked how explosive K-Mart used to be. I liked Marcus Camby, how he blocked everything. I liked those guys because they were physical, and they just didn’t care. They didn’t take nothing from nobody, and I loved it. And it kind of helped with Dennis Rodman coming from a small school, and everybody saying he wouldn’t cut it. It helped just watching him shut everybody up and become a Hall of Famer. It really helped me do what I wanted to do.

SLAM: How did it help you?

KF: I knew I needed to focus on whatever the team needed me to do. In high school when I was a freshman, it was just learning and listening to the coach. My sophomore coach wanted more scoring out of me. I got taller but stayed skinny, and I started to score but I still rebounded. I just fell in love with rebounding. My mom would be at the games and she’d yell, “Get the rebound and put it back!” My father wouldn’t yell anything, he’d just tell me, “Get the rebound and put it back, and that’s how you can score in the paint.” My mother would yell it, though.

SLAM: When you were in college, did you stay in Kentucky during the summer, or did you come back and work out in Jersey?

KF: I mainly stayed in Kentucky. I felt like it was beneficial to me to get out there and work out and improve as a player. I had my teammates there, and we were going at each other, so it really helped, and it helped us improve as a team, with guys fighting for spots and playing time.

SLAM: So you prove yourself in college and finally get drafted and get to the NBA, and then you don’t get much burn. Coach Karl said you were using practices as your games to try and show and prove you belonged.

KF: Exactly. And when I first stepped on the court and started getting experience, I was able to learn more and see how the game is played, and I got that much better. And then I was able to play even faster.

SLAM: Where do you get that relentlessness? You seem to have a drive not a lot of other players have.

KF: From my parents. My father taught me to put forth my best effort no matter what. He’s always relied on himself. He is a carpenter and a painter, and he would always tell me about having guys working alongside him on the job who were lazy or whatever. He would hire me and he said he’d rather have me do it, because he knew I’d put forth the effort. I would complain, of course, because I was younger and I wanted to have fun, but I still always put forth my best effort, to help him. He would say he’d rather have me do it instead of guys who didn’t want to do nothing, and he would always tell me not to be like that. And my mother, I just watched the will that she showed, because she was in and out of the hospital a lot, but she never gave up.

SLAM: So one of the reasons you play so hard is because you don’t want to have to go back and do carpentry?

KF: [Laughs] No, it’s not really that. It’s that I don’t want my parents to have to go back to that, I don’t want them to have to suffer anymore. I want my parents to be able to say, “My son made his dream come true.” Because I always told them that was my dream, to make it in the NBA.

SLAM: You made the Playoffs as a rookie. What was post-season basketball like for you?

KF: The game seemed to speed up in the Playoffs. It was a great pace for me, because I just got faster as the season went along. When the Playoffs came around, the coaches were looking for me to do more stuff, wanted me to do more stuff. I was a leader. Not vocally, but I was a leader emotionally and physically, my effort, the way I play. I led by example. My coaches and GM and everybody told me that, and I was shocked. I said, “I’m not a leader,” but they all said, “You lead by example.” It was an honor for me to be called a leader, as a rookie especially. I just did what I had to do for the team to win games.

SLAM: What do you think Andre Iguodala will bring to the Nuggets?

KF: We’ll have even more fast breaks, even more energy. He’s going to bring that Gold medal mentality, that toughness. I think he’s going to bring great leadership. He’s played on a Playoff team, he has the drive that you need to win and he’s done it before. And he’s willing to play defense, and that’s how we win games.

SLAM: Where did “Manimal” come from?

KF: When I was going through the Draft process, everybody was talking about how I needed a nickname. Some people were calling me a beast, saying I played like an animal. And one of the guys at my agency, Makhtar N’Diaye, said, “You know what? We’re going to call you Manimal. You just play so hard and you’re so intense, we should just call you Manimal.” At first I was kind of like, Nah, I like my nickname from college—in college my nickname was K-Time. Took me about an hour of thinking about it and I realized Manimal did fit. Also, I got the hair for it: half-man, half-lion.