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Faried took one official visit, to Morehead State, whose first-year coach, Donnie Tyndall, had received a tip on him through a New Jersey scouting service contact. The Eagles were in the midst of a 12--18 season in 2006--07, but Faried committed in February, and he's since been the cornerstone of the program's rise to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and a 24-win season last year. Tyndall had no notion that Faried would be a star capable of appearing on the NBA's radar. "I thought he'd be a guy who could start for us for three years and make all-conference before he graduated," Tyndall says. "Now, I call him a once-in-a-lifetime player at this school. Even if I'm fortunate enough to coach at Morehead for 20 years, I'll probably only have one Kenneth Faried."
What separates the player who gets 10 to 12 rebounds per 40 minutes from the one who gets 17, as Faried does? He's oversized for his conference, which helps; he has long arms, an excellent second bounce and loads of lateral quickness, which help even more. He has a few tricks that he learned from Kenneth Sr., including a jujitsulike swim move Faried uses against opponents who have him boxed out; it typically involves a deft blow to the solar plexus that pushes the opposing player away from the basket. But elite rebounders have an intangible force as well. Former Pitt star DeJuan Blair, for example, said he was powered by something like greed. "I love money," he explained during his sophomore season. "I pretend that every rebound is a million dollars, and I'm going to go out and get my millions." Faried has a deeper drive, and this is what major-conference recruiters missed: They could see 6'7", 185 pounds and they could see his raw athleticism—but they could not gauge the depth of his will to rebound.
That will comes from a place that Faried is slow to reveal. He's in his dorm room at Morehead, a rectangular, ground-floor triple in which he occupies one end; best friend Demonte Harper, the Eagles' highest-scoring guard, occupies the other; and a student manager's bed is wedged in the middle space. They use shower curtains as dividers. Faried is playing the Xbox 360 game Call of Duty: Black Ops, a first-person shooter that requires too much focus to simultaneously engage in an emotional discussion. An anonymous, online soldier slays him with a volleyed explosive device, and Faried relents. He powers down the Xbox, then the television, and apologizes.
"It's just that ... video games are my escape," he says, leaning forward in his chair now, so that his dreadlocks fall over his eyes, which are welling up with tears. "Because when I start thinking about my mother, and talk about her being sick, I always start to cry."
Faried never met his maternal grandmother, Ishana, who died from lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its own tissues and organs, while Waudda was pregnant with him in 1989. Waudda was an all-district hurdler and long jumper in high school, ran track at Jersey City State and held her own in streetball games—"I was a very physical player," she says—while playing on the same teams as Kenneth Sr. Because of her mother's experience, Waudda knew she was genetically predisposed to contract lupus.
She was told when Kenneth was two that she had the disease, and when he was in the fourth grade, it began to debilitate her, affecting her kidneys and her joints, and sapping her energy. "I used to wonder why my mother would lie in her bedroom in the middle of the day with all the lights turned off and not want us to bother her," Waudda, age 43, says. "And then I understood." She has spent the past 12 years in and out of the hospital, dealing, as Faried says, with heartbreak after heartbreak.
He explains how after high school games, Kenneth Sr. would take him to visit Waudda in St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. "Tell her the story," Kenneth Sr. would say, and if Nard wasn't being descriptive enough, his dad would interject falsehoods ("Remember when you got dunked on?") designed to rile up his boy. Waudda only cared about one stat. "She'd say to me, 'You'd better have gotten your rebounds,'" Faried remembers.
Despite her illness, Waudda promised to be present if Faried ever played for a championship at Morehead State. On March 7, 2009, in Nashville, after the Eagles beat Austin Peay in double overtime to win the OVC tournament and reach the NCAAs for the first time since 1984, Faried's first move after the buzzer was to bound up into the stands and embrace his mom. She was weak, with staples in her arm from a recent operation, but she had made the trip. Waudda came to Nashville again last season, on March 6, only to see Morehead lose in the OVC finals to Murray State. Faried was devastated by the loss, but what he heard that night from Waudda—who asked him to have a talk with her at her hotel—shook him to his core.
"I don't know how long I have left," she said. "I always wanted to see you achieve your dreams, and see you have a child ... but I don't know how long I have left."
Unbeknownst to Waudda, Faried's close friend, Rebecca McCarthy, was due to have their baby girl, Kyra, in just a few days.