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Luke Winn
January 24, 2011
Kenneth Faried owns the glass like no other player in the country, and he does it in obscurity. It's a nice little story, but only the start of his unlikely narrative
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January 24, 2011

The Gift Of Grab

Kenneth Faried owns the glass like no other player in the country, and he does it in obscurity. It's a nice little story, but only the start of his unlikely narrative

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He had been too scared to tell his mother; he wanted to make sure the child was healthy first. Kyra was born on March 12, and when Faried called Waudda with the news, she was overjoyed. There was then the matter of his dream—the NBA—and whether to enter the draft as a junior. He declared with the intention of helping his mother and daughter.

Faried could only fit one workout trip around his finals during the shortened draft window (April 25 through May 8) for underclassmen. The Oklahoma City Thunder put him through the most thorough physical exam of his life. He'd battled asthma in the past—he was even hospitalized for it as a child—but the Thunder's doctors discovered something alarming.

Faried had been playing for an indeterminate amount of time with a deviated septum. One of his nasal passages was blocked completely; the other was 25% blocked. He had surgery this off-season to correct the issue and has been able to stay on the floor for longer stretches as a senior. (He's played 35-plus minutes in 10 games already—compared to just four last year.)

But Faried had been the nation's best rebounder when he could barely breathe.

It was Waudda who insisted he stay in school, because he wasn't certain about turning pro and he couldn't get a first-round guarantee. After pulling out of the draft, Nard went home to Newark to spend what might have been his last quality time with Waudda. He was with her on May 26 when a miracle occurred: After a seven-year wait, St. Barnabas had finally found a kidney donor for her. The surgery was successful, giving Waudda what Kenneth describes as "a second life." The transplant could give Waudda another five years in her fight with lupus. It should also allow her to see Kenneth in the NBA draft, which is being held in Newark in June—and, he firmly believes, in the NBA in 2011--12.

"She is what drives me," he says. "I want to be the person she wants me to be. When I see her I say, 'That's one strong woman. She has no quit in her whatsoever.' That's why I don't quit on anything."

The game is over, and Waudda has pulled out a box of photographs of Nard as a boy. She is partial to one of him dancing in a plain white T-shirt when he was about eight. "That," she says, picking it up and examining it, "was one active child."

Now NBA scouts regularly fly to Lexington and drive the hour east, or to Cincinnati and drive the two hours southeast, to check in on Waudda Faried's active child and watch him chase every rebound. They are trying to discern, while seeing him dominate tiny OVC forwards, whether he's worthy of their first-round pick. The most common assessment they make on-record is, "He's interesting," because they know to be coy about a mid-major sleeper. He could be the next Paul Millsap or Louis Amundson, or if you believe Florida coach Billy Donovan—against whose fully sized Gators Faried had 20 points and 18 rebounds on Nov. 21—"Dennis Rodman all over again."

"If I was an NBA general manager, I'd be taking him with my pick," Donovan said of Faried after Florida's 61--55 win. "That's what a next-level guy looks like. He just totally destroyed our frontcourt."

Surely several G.M.'s winced upon reading Donovan's quote; when the college coach of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and David Lee anoints a small-school forward the Next Rodman, the secret is going to get out. But Faried has been making his case for three years. He had double doubles in 15 of 19 games this season, 25 games as a junior, 25 as a sophomore and seven as a freshman. In his two NCAA tournament appearances, he had 14 points and 21 boards (against Alabama State) and 14 and 11 (against Louisville). It doesn't matter what kind of frontcourt Faried is up against. He'll always get his rebounds.

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