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Where you at, Nard?"
Mild crisis in Newark: Three missed shots into the game, and Nard has not rebounded any of them. Whereabouts on the floor: uncertain. These are invisible misfires, invisible missed rebounds, radio play-by-play streaming over the Internet. Nard's team, Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference, is rarely televised. He's playing against SIU-Edwardsville, 930 miles from this 24th-floor apartment in the Zion Towers projects, yet in his mother's living room he's everywhere—his plaques, his trophies, his game balls and photographs of him hugging her. Her voice again, this time with exasperation.
"Where you at, Nard?"
Five shots have been missed, and Waudda Faried's oldest son's name still hasn't been called. She counts all the rebounds made by Kenneth Bernard Faried-Lewis II. He gets them as a tribute to her. When he first went to Newark's playground courts with Waudda and his father, Kenneth Sr. (he was Kenneth, so the boy was called Nard), they explained that if he wanted to shoot the basketball, he had to rebound it first. This is a harsh thing to tell a five-year-old—unless that kid goes on to become the best rebounder in college basketball. Then, it becomes a part of his legend.
"Tillman turns, fires ... off the iron, off the glass, off the rim, a miss, rebound Faried—"
"Thank you," Waudda says, clapping once for emphasis. "Thank you."
That's one. Nard, who's averaging a Division I-best 13.3 rebounds per game for the 12--7 Eagles, will get 20 before the final buzzer. Waudda has requested 30—"He owes me 30, and he's working on it," she says—but will celebrate his 20. It's 7 p.m. and darkness has settled over Zion Towers. She has enough energy left to rise up off the couch and dance a happy dance. Go Nard, go Nard.
She didn't think she'd live long enough to do this.
In 2007, Faried arrived in tiny Morehead—a 6,000-person burg in the northern tip of the Daniel Boone National Forest—cutting a frail figure. He was 6'7" and 185 pounds, dreadlocked and culture-shocked. He's grown immensely, to 6'8" and 228, his upper body a sculpted isosceles triangle, his legs sinewy pogo sticks. He's still small compared with the top NCAA rebounders of the past three seasons (chart, page 55), yet he's so relentless that each of his first three seasons with the Eagles appears in the top six. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin won the Wooden and Naismith awards in part for his glasswork in '08--09, but Faried had better numbers that year and the next.
Faried received little attention during his high school days at Newark Technology, a charter school with an unestablished basketball program. He could start in the frontcourt for any college program in the country (most NBA scouts will tell you this—more on that later), and yet four years ago, he was recruited seriously by just two schools, Morehead State and Marist. Seton Hall and Rutgers checked in on him, but uncertainty over what position he'd play and whether he'd qualify academically—he had to scramble as a senior to make grades and didn't get an acceptable SAT score until June 2007, two months before he enrolled in college—made both programs lose interest.