by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
Kenneth Faried has spent a good amount of his summer working with youth around the globe. He held a basketball camp for 150 kids at his alma mater Morehead State and traveled to Treviso, Italy with his shoe and apparel partner, adidas, to work with some of the top international prospects in the world. This past weekend, Faried was posted up at the prestigious adidas Nations camp in Southern California, passing along tips to some of the top high school players in the country. And while the 6-8 beastly big man enjoys spending time with the next generation of basketball youth, he is certain that coaching kids is not in his future.
“Oh no, I can’t do it—I’m good with kids but it is hard to coach them,” Faried explains. “I expect them to work hard and not every kid wants to work hard. I expect every kid to put 110 percent on the court because that’s the type of player I am. I put it all out on the court and every kid doesn’t have it. To work hard and want to play hard is a talent, not something that is given to you. You got to want to do it.”
It may sound a bit harsh to those unaware of Faried’s journey to the NBA, but for those who understand the highway he traveled, his words are extremely poignant and important. The most common question he is asked in settings such as this? “Can I get a picture?” he says. Other kids want to know if the NBA is fun and enjoyable. “The kids want to know about the fun parts instead of the work part,” he says.
With Nations stacked with great coaches throughout, Faried spent his time at the camp encouraging kids with his stern words and realistic approach to the game.
“I tell them it’s not going to be as hard to get there if you work hard,” he explains. “You can’t just rely on your talent. You can go No. 1 overall and make it to this League and the guy picked at No. 60 might beat you out of this League. I’m just trying to show these kids that you can’t stop working hard. I didn’t have half the talent that they have to make it to this camp. I wasn’t that guy who was automatically going to make it to the League. I had to work. That’s what I did to make it.”
It’s natural for Faried to think back on his high school years when surrounded by heralded young talent on the summer camp circuit. His story has been well documented—Faried grew up in the Zion Towers in Newark, NJ, a skinny kid with raw basketball skills and a pristine motor that has been unrivaled on the court since he was 17 years old. He was hardly recruited, schools such as Marist and Iona showed interest but when Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall hit the trail, his mother Waudda—who Faried considers the most important person in his life—encouraged him to attend the school in the Eastern Hills of Kentucky with roughly 9,000 students.
“I wasn’t invited to events like this when I was growing up,” Faried says. “I went to Five Star and the Top 100 camp. I wasn’t able to put myself on the scene like that through AAU— I didn’t do that when I was younger.”
The lack of exposure ate at him, and Faried threw a stack of heavy chips on each shoulder and added that warm smile that we’ve come to know very well.
“It bothered me to the point that it motivated me to want to be that kid that would prove everybody wrong and make it to the League to show everybody that just because I went to a small school and didn’t go to these events, didn’t mean I wasn’t good enough,” he says.
At Morehead State, the Manimal was born. Faried was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year his junior and senior seasons on his way to becoming the greatest rebounder in college basketball’s modern era (post-1973). Following a six-point loss on the road to Florida during his senior campaign, Gators coach Billy Donovan compared Faried’s rebounding ability to Dennis Rodman and proclaimed he should be a future first-round pick.
Faried’s play and leadership helped the Eagles make a tourney run in 2009 as a sophomore, but his play during the tournament in 2011 as a senior won over many basketball fans across the country. During the first round of the Tourney that year as a 13-seed, the Eagles knocked off Rick Pitino’s 4-seeded Louisville squad in a memorable upset. Morehead State played seven players that day, and while Faried didn’t shoot particularly well (4-17 from the field), he dominated: 12 points, 17 rebounds (5 offensive), 2 steals and superb defense. Coincidentally, the game was played at the Pepsi Center in Denver, his future home court after the Nuggets drafted him in the first round later that year, No. 22 overall.
Two years later, Faried’s relentlessness has continued every time his feet come within 94 feet of hardwood. His passion, energy and commitment has propelled him to become one of the best young players in the League, a status amplified by his invite to train with Team USA a few weeks ago in Las Vegas.
“I was extremely happy to make it and being able to do that,” Faried says. “It showed that I can compete with the best of them. That was my first time there and it seemed like most of the players had already been invited to some type of USA camp when they were younger. It was a brand new experience and it was fun and exciting to be a part of that group of guys and that atmosphere with future NBA All-Stars and Hall of Famers. I wasn’t representing a team, I was representing the United States and that was an honor to get that feeling. It’s a stepping stone to what I want to do in the future.”
What sets Faried apart from his contemporaries is a unique attitude built off his burning desire to beat everyone up and down the court—on every single occasion. That’s his goal. The pressure he puts on the player defending him does not go unnoticed—Faried is that dude cats don’t want to see as an opponent. Failure to chase those dreads past every wood square on the floor and get a box on him will result in a serious clown session when film review rolls around.
When pressed for the secret behind his incredible lungwind, he laughs. “I just breathe, man,” Faried exclaims. “It’s the will. You have to have the will to want to do it. And that’s what I have. I want to do it, I want to work hard, want to get better. And I guess I want to close people’s mouths until they say I’m a great player or an All-Star. I want to have that.”
In order to get there, Faried has focused his attention on his jump shot and free-throw shooting this summer. “Techniques and repetition,” says Faried, who averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds in 80 starts last season. “And you have to listen and put in the time and effort.”
Faried had initially expressed shock earlier this summer when the Nuggets lost GM Masai Ujiri to the Toronto Raptors and fired coach George Karl. Since that time, the team has hired New Orleans executive Tim Connelly to replace Ujiri and former NBA player Brian Shaw to coach the team. Faried is all in.
“I’m excited about us, we’re young and still learning,” Faried says. “We have a young coach in there now and he’s going to bring that energy and enthusiasm that we probably were missing in the Playoffs last year. He’s going to try and showcase that he’s got this coaching job and is ready to move this team forward when playoff time comes.”
Off the court, Faried’s profile continues to rise. He was one of eight cover athletes for ESPN’s body issue that dropped in July, wearing nothing but the yards of dreads that flow from every direction of his head. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from friends who recall what his body looked like during his teen years. “Being admired for it is a great compliment,” he explains. “I was basically a stick figure and now I have a built body that I worked hard to make this way.”
Faried is also very active in the community, supporting the various charities of his peers and teammates. He recently became the first NBA player to join Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization founded by Hudson Taylor that promotes the acceptance of all sexual orientations.
“It was something I wanted to support because it was about being different in a good way,” Faried says. “And as everybody knows my mother is a lesbian and she has a wife and I wanted to support them. I’ve supported them all my life and wanted to show that just because I’m in the NBA, that’s not going to change. I wanted to show that support for my mom.”
It’s a remarkable perspective for a 23-year-old NBA player on his trajectory—we need more Faried’s in the Association. ‘Til that time comes, it’s going to be fun to watch Faried continue his transcendence—he’ll surely be smiling throughout.