NEW YORK — After a week in New York City and two decisive wins in exhibition games, the final 12 players for the USA Basketball men’s roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup have yet to be announced. But one player who seems to have cemented a spot in the starting lineup is Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, a player whose inclusion in the initial player pool was questioned by some.
“Since we’ve been here I’ve, I guess, proven people wrong saying I wasn’t a good fit,” said Faried after posting 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 12 minutes during a 112-86 win over Puerto Rico. “People saying ‘That kid’s not gonna make it on the team.’ ‘Oh, why did they bring Kenneth? Why is he even starting?’ Hey, I’m gonna just keep proving people wrong.”
Proving people wrong is nothing new for Faried. While playing at Technology High School in Newark, NJ, Faried wasn’t recruited extensively by bigger college programs because he hadn’t played against elite high school competition. Faried ended up at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he finished his four-year career as the NCAA all-time rebounding leader (post-1973, when the NCAA split into Divisions) as well as a collegiate second-team All-American.
Faried’s college credentials didn’t help much when the NBA came calling, as he dropped to the Nuggets with the 22nd pick in the 2011 Draft. He totaled just 20 minutes in Denver’s first 21 games that season, but his relentless energy in practice earned him a chance, and once he broke into the lineup he couldn’t be removed. He finished his rookie year on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team.
Faried impressed USA Basketball brass last summer at the team’s training camp, and parlayed that into an invite to this summer’s camp. In the weeks since, he’s used his perpetual motor and nose for the ball to earn what looks like a starting spot on Team USA.
He’s heard the questions — “I hear everybody saying stuff. I hear everything.” — and, as he’s done at every level, he’s answered them with resounding clarity.
“Same story, different chapter, basically,” Faried said. “Again, I’m just out here trying to prove everybody wrong. And again, I have to do it at another level, and that’s the USA level. Hopefully, after this run is over with, we come home with the gold, people will say, ‘Oh, OK, we apologize,’ and show me some respect. If not, until then, I’m gonna have to keep proving people wrong.”
Against Puerto Rico, with Coach Mike Krzyzeski still trying out different line-up combinations, Faried was told he wouldn’t play much in the first half, and he didn’t, totaling less than 5 minutes. But in the third quarter, Faried showed why he’s called “The Manimal,” teaming with Anthony Davis to give the U.S. a dynamic interior presence, unleashing a flurry of blocks and rebounds and dunks and tip-ins to help the USA push what was a five-point halftime lead to a 20-point advantage heading into the fourth.
“I play hard and my teammates start having fun, and my energy is contagious,” said Faried. “It’s been contagious my whole life. People come out basically to see me play, and guys feed off my energy, and this is what happens: We win games.
“I feel as though we’re having fun, if anything. When you’re having fun everything else just falls into place. Guys want to get after it. We’re playing great defense. That’s what we’re trying to do, stick to our motto: Play defense. Lock down whoever their best player is, whoever their second go-to player is. We want to lock down all five, basically.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Faried somehow feeds off the slights accumulated throughout his career. He hears them, he shrugs them off, and then he outruns and outworks any doubts.
“No, that really is not what drives me,” Faried said. “Just going out there and playing every day, and lacing my sneakers up, and being blessed to play the game I love. I don’t go to work every day. I just go have fun.”
It’s been quite a ride, but the guy who has spent much of his life being overlooked is smack in the middle of Team USA. Just don’t ask him if he feels like he belongs.
“I know I belong,” said Faried. “Ain’t no feel like it, I know I belong. So I’m not worried about anything.”