NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The nation's top rebounder has earned a reputation as his own toughest critic. In reality, he isn't even the harshest judge in his family.
After collecting 20 points and 16 rebounds in a recent victory over Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State forward/center Kenneth Faried told reporters that he would give himself only a "C" for that performance because he fell short of his season-long goal of 20 rebounds.
Faried wanted to deliver a 20-rebound game because that's what his ailing mother has asked of him. When he finally met that goal last week with 23 points and 21 rebounds in a 65-50 victory over Tennessee State, Faried called his mom with the happy news.
"He was trying to get to 20," said Waudda Faried, who monitors her son's progress while battling lupus from her home in Newark, N.J. "I told him I want 30."
Only three times since 1980 has any Division I player pulled down as many as 30 rebounds in a single game. But if anyone can add his name to that exclusive list this season, Faried's the guy.
Faried leads the nation at 13.7 rebounds per game and has pulled down at least a dozen rebounds in 12 consecutive outings. He ranked third in the nation last season at 13.0 rebounds per game.
Faried, a 6-foot-8 junior, says he owes much of his rebounding acumen to his parents. Faried often would follow his parents to the court as a child. Their message always was the same: If you can rebound, then you can shoot.
"The first thing they instilled in me is, 'You've got to rebound it to shoot it.' That's just stuck with me," Faried said. "In order for me to shoot, I'd have to rebound it.
"It was kind of hard because my parents were both 6 feet and taller than me. They'd say, 'You've got to box somebody out and push them away,' and I'm a skinny little kid trying to get rebounds over these 6-foot towers."
Rebounding eventually became second nature.
"It's just a knack," Faried said. "When my teammates shoot it, I think, 'OK, that's a pass. Let me go get it.' It's kind of weird. Most people think a bad shot is not smart. I don't consider it that way. If they miss it, it's another point for us because I'm going to get it and put it back in."
Faried's take on shot selection might not make much sense in theory, but it's hard to argue with his results. Morehead State reached the NCAA tournament last season and remains in contention for a second consecutive Ohio Valley Conference title largely because of Faried's ability to dominate the glass. The Eagles (15-7, 9-2 OVC) head into Thursday's game with Jacksonville State trailing league leader Murray State by two games.
Morehead State is fourth in the nation in rebound margin, even though Faried is the only player on the team averaging more than 5.0 boards per game. Faried has more than 2.5 times as many rebounds as any of his teammates.
After tangling with him under the basket in practice each day, Morehead State forward/center Les Simmons probably has the best perspective on what it's like to fight Faried for a rebound. "Have you ever watched the movie 'Gladiator?' " Simmons said.
Chairmen of the boards
Here's a look at the top 10 rebounders in the nation through Tuesday's games.
Faried has good reason for going after each rebound with that kind of ferocity. He's trying to honor the people who helped get him this far.
Waudda Faried watched just about every game her son played in high school, but she rarely gets to see him play anymore. She instead remains in Newark while dealing with lupus, which causes the body's immune system to attack its own tissue instead of fighting bacteria or viruses.
"I'm battling," Waudda Faried said. "That's why my son has the heart he has, because I told him, 'As long as I'm OK, when you step on the court remember who you represent.' "
Faried has represented well. As an academic risk who grew up in a tough area, Faried didn't seem like a realistic candidate to play major college basketball, no matter how well he rebounded.
"It was an extremely rough area, with a lot of violence," Faried said. "You'd walk outside and wouldn't know if you'd lose your life the next day."
Faried credits his mother for making sure he stayed safe. Waudda Faried commanded such respect that her neighbors wanted to make sure her son didn't get caught up in a bad situation. Faried knew when he should stay inside and when it was all right to go out.
"My mother had a real impact on the neighborhood," Faried said. "Everybody just helped me out and would let me know, 'Don't be outside right now. Something's about to go down.' I'd know what was going on before it happened. That's how I stayed out of trouble."
Faried's mother also helped steer him toward Morehead State, located more than 600 miles away from Newark. Faried had never even heard of Morehead State until the school started recruiting him. He didn't know the location of its rural Kentucky campus and wasn't even sure it had a Division I program.
But it indeed was a Division I school, one of the few pursuing Faried at the time. Most big-time programs shied away from Faried because they didn't believe he would qualify academically. When other schools started playing catch-up after he got the necessary test scores, Faried rewarded Morehead State's faith in him.
"It was really just us and Marist," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said. "There were a couple of Big East schools that tried to get him to go to prep school, but he was just 6-7 and 185 pounds then. Now he's 6-8 and 220 or 215. He wasn't what he is now. He was a nice player, but he was a mid-major-type recruit and a late qualifier. We just hung with him, and his mom wanted him to get away from Newark and into a small-college setting."
Faried's parents sold Morehead State to their son by pointing out the school's New Jersey connection. Phil Simms had played quarterback at Morehead State before beginning a 15-year career with the New York Giants.
"They said, 'You could be the next Phil Simms,' " Faried said. "They said how everyone could talk about me and Phil Simms, how I made it into a bigger league from a smaller school. I just took it and rolled with it."
When Morehead State forward/center Kenneth Faried delivered his first 20-rebound game of the season last week, his mother said she now wants to see him get 30 rebounds in a game. Although 10 players have delivered 30-rebound games since 1973, it has happened only three times since 1980. Here's a look at everyone who has accomplished that feat since 1973.
(NOTE: * -- School now known as Louisiana-Monroe.)
Faried still must determine when he wants to take that next step. A mock draft at draftexpress.com has Faried getting taken with the 10th pick in the second round of the 2010 NBA draft if he chooses to bypass his senior year.
His status as an undersized power forward without much of a perimeter game might limit Faried's draft stock, no matter how long he stays in school. But at least one NBA scout believes he can find a home in the NBA. The scout compared him to Utah Jazz forwards Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer, who also overcame a relative lack of height to forge successful pro careers.
"His range will be an issue, but if he goes to the right team, like Paul Millsap did, his range can slowly come along," the scout said. "Don't look for him to come in and light it up for you on the offensive end right away, but he sure as heck will rebound for you."
Tyndall believes Faried could benefit from staying in school one more year. After averaging 13.9 points per game last season, Faried has increased his average to 17.0 points per game this season. Tyndall said he thinks one more year of college basketball can help Faried develop an even more well-rounded game.
"Kenneth has a legitimate chance to one day play in the NBA, but he still needs a lot of work, especially on the offensive end," Tyndall said. "A lot of those [NBA power forwards] are 6-10, 250. For him to make a team or be a first-round pick, he's going to have to be able to do some things on the perimeter. This offseason's going to be big for him.
"I don't foresee him leaving early. If he was a first-round pick, no question about it, I'd tell him you need to go. But I don't think that's where he'll be projected, and I think he'll end up coming back."
Faried's mother sees things differently.
"He's ready to go, but I don't believe he's going to be a second-round pick," Waudda Faried said. "I believe he's going to be going in the first round. I believe that.
"If my son does what I tell him to do and he gets those 30 [rebounds in a game], they're definitely going to come get on his back."
She wants the chance to see her son suit up for an NBA team. After spending more than 15 years battling the same disease that killed her mother, Waudda Faried understands the importance of appreciating every day.
Although she doesn't get the chance to travel to Morehead State very often, Waudda did attend the OVC tournament championship last season in Nashville. Though she had stitches in her arm from her latest round of surgery, she "coached" her son from the stands throughout the game and gave him a warm embrace afterward. She would love to repeat that scene in an NBA arena sometime soon.
"If the Lord can keep me here that long, I want to see my son become a pro," Waudda Faried said. "And my son wants to see it, too."