Credit: AFP, Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/E.Alšauskas
Credit AFP, Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/E.Alšauskas

It all started with a bowl of borscht. That's the way CSKA Moscow chose to welcome one of their most prestigious signings in recent years - Kenneth Faried.

Kenneth Faried

Kenneth  Faried
Kenneth  Faried
MIN: 7.7
PTS: 2.29 (45.45%)
REB: 2.43
As: 0
ST: 0.14
BL: 0
TO: 0.14
GM: 7

The former starting center of the Denver Nuggets and world champion with Team USA in 2014 arrived in the Russian capital on October 16, one week after the official announcement by the European powerhouse.

For a starter, borscht didn't actually look or taste bad at all, despite Faried's curious look in the photo that CSKA shared on social media.

"It was actually good. Nice, hot, and tasty. It's pretty much beet soup. It didn't taste bad at all," the 32-year-old big man told BasketNews on December 12. That was roughly one week before his two-month deal with the Russian side expired.

So, the starter was fine. But what about the main course?

Over the two months, the former Denver Nuggets starting center saw 54 minutes of EuroLeague action over 7 games, averaging 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds on 5-of-16 shooting from the field. He posted similar stats across four VTB League regular-season contests with CSKA: 2.3 points and 3 rebounds in a total of 46 minutes.

Overall, Kenneth Faried's playing time in Europe clocked in at 100 minutes, which equals two and a half (full) games. That's way less than even his most persistent hater would ever expect.

"If you ask me, I'm at my best level," the 2014 world champion with Team USA confidently pointed out in the zoom interview we did while he was still in Moscow.

"It's just a matter of getting playing time and belief from coach (Dimitris Itoudis). It's difficult to do that because he has players who have been here and know the game. I respect it, and I keep supporting my teammates. That's the only thing I can do.

Kenneth Faried

Kenneth  Faried
Team: CSKA Moscow
Position: PF, SF
Age: 32
Height: 203 cm
Weight: 103 kg
Birth place: Newark, United States of America

Every day I bring my best game, and my teammates look at me like saying "thank you, this is making our team much better."

The much-desired playing time Faried was hoping to get in Moscow never came. So, the breakup announcement of the Russian powerhouse was the inevitable outcome.

But time flies quickly and now Faried is off to another task: making an NBA through the G League. The eight-year NBA veteran will be joining the Denver Nuggets affiliate, Grand Rapids Gold, a deal that vividly resembles a reunion for the athlete and the Denver organization.

However, his short-term stint with CSKA certainly did not leave Faried empty-handed.

"Being able to play ball is the most exciting thing for me. I've given my all to this game. I'm getting in great shape. I'm able to bump against guys who are professionals. They know the Euro game and how it's played.

I've added a little bit of shooting to my athleticism and tenacious rebounding," he stressed.

Faried played 478 NBA games, averaging 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest. He acquired the nickname "Manimal" due to his desire to fight for the ball in every possession fearlessly.

"My nickname the Manimal just came from the way I play, my energy, enthusiasm, how I attack everything. I'm just aggressive about my play, and I'm so passionate about it," the undersized (2.03 m.) big has revealed.

Following his seven-year tenure with the Denver Nuggets (2011-18), the Morehead State graduate slit the 2018-19 season between the Brooklyn Nets and the Houston Rockets before moving overseas for the first time in his career. Faried pretty much followed in the footsteps of another former NBA player who came to Europe in 2021, OJ Mayo, playing in Puerto Rico and China.

As he confides to BasketNews, life and basketball in that part of the world are "different." Fresh off his seven NBA seasons, Faried believed that those destinations could prepare the ground for a second NBA run. The pandemic forced him to change his plans.

"I thought that China was going to be a bridge for me to get back into the NBA and play. I believe that I would have had a chance to go back to the NBA if COVID didn't hit or rules forbidding overseas players to come. I got my FIBA clearance way before the COVID breakout, but I didn't get back in because of that rule."

The next year (2020), as he was trying to stay ready for an NBA call-up, his phone rang. It wasn't an NBA franchise asking for his services, but reigning EuroLeague champions CSKA Moscow. Dimitris Itoudis has confirmed that he wanted Faried on the team back then, but the timing wasn't the right one for the American center.

"I decided not to go because I thought I would get a chance in a playoff team. That didn't happen," he says in retrospect.

"I tried Summer League, and next thing you know, I went to Puerto Rico and used it as a training camp for myself. I didn't want to mess around. I wanted to get in shape for whatever happened next."

Then, CSKA called again. This time, things were different. Faried started having second thoughts.

"I thought to myself, "everybody's saying that I need to play at a higher level." So, I let go of my contract in Puerto Rico after one month and came to Russia."

It didn't turn out to be a disappointment. "The level and the intensity over here were way different than Puerto Rico. I knew that as soon as I got acclimated to my sleep, I would be able to thrive over here," the experienced big man maintains.

"For me, practice makes better. We get a lot of them in Moscow. But the game atmosphere is different. I'm a ball of energy, so I practice hard, and at games, I go even harder because the fans are there, and I don't want to disappoint them."

As we all know, Faried's adjustment period to European basketball standards only lasted for two months. It was a time spent well for the athlete himself since he managed to approach his standards that rendered him one of the NBA's standouts.

"After these last two months, I've been doing really well, and coach Itoudis has been giving me a lot of praise on how much better and understanding of the European game I've gotten," the Manimal noted.

Apart from his development as a player, those two months enabled Kenneth Faried to form an opinion on the level of European basketball, players' proneness to flopping, and referees' willingness to punish it.

In his interview with BasketNews, the former CSKA center also weighed in on Team USA under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the meteoric rise of his former teammate Nikola Jokic and the hardships that many former NBA players face in the Old Continent.

On a more personal note and moving away from the basketball realm, Faried explained how his upbringing by two gay women made him the target of discrimination during his childhood in New Jersey.

When you arrived in Moscow, you said that one of your closest best friends has played in Europe. Who were you referring to?

Demonte Harper. We talked when he was playing with Zenit, and I was in the NBA at the time. I asked him if European teams fly private, he was like: "Nah, only certain teams do that. If you ever come out here, you should play for CSKA." He told me that it was the top organization in Europe and Moscow is a great city.

Is there anyone else you talked to?

I talked to other guys that we played against recently. Joffrey Lauvergne, Jan Vesely, Isaiah Canaan, whom I know from the NBA.

I also talked to Alan Williams because we were teammates in Brooklyn for a short period of time.

Also, Cory Higgins and Julius Stone. We played in Denver together. Higgins and I became close friends during our training camp. Those guys were telling me that CSKA is a top-notch organization.

By the way, Emmanuel Mudiay, your former teammate at the Nuggets, spent a couple of months with Zalgiris.

Yes, but we never really got the chance to talk about him being out here. When we went to play them, he wasn't there anymore. I heard that he got let go by the team. That's what happens. I guess that's the nature of this beast over here.

Coach Itoudis said that the two of you talked extensively last year as well, as you were on CSKA's radar, but the deal didn't materialize. What made you open that door now?

It's more about people counting me out, saying that I didn't have it anymore. "Is he still good or athletic enough? Can he still be the Manimal?" is what everyone was asking.

I took that as a disrespect to me, my name, my legacy, and the things I've done throughout the NBA and my college career. Sometimes, you have to take two steps backward to take a step forward.

Most people were impressed when you revealed that you actually watched several EuroLeague games and that you had been following the league while playing in the NBA.

How did that interest start? I guess that's not a very common habit among American NBA players, is it?

It's not, but for me, it became more of a habit because of the guys I met who played in the NBA. My best friend Demonte Harper was playing here, and I wanted to see how he was doing and how he played. It reminded me of college, and it was very interesting to see how he adapted.

Guys like Jan Vesely and Joffrey came over here. My biggest pleasure was when ADIDAS took me to the EuroLeague Final Four in 2016. I really liked the atmosphere. First, I watched Bayern Munich play.

It's also noteworthy that your first NBA basket came off an assist from Rudy Fernandez. He threw it behind his back, and you just took the lob and dunked it. It made SportsCenter's No. 1, actually.

Yeah, Rudy and I weren't so close as teammates, but he helped me score my first NBA basket. It was very electric at the time. He flipped the ball behind his head.

That happens when you practice with your teammates, and they know how explosive you are. He knew that he could throw it pretty high, and I could go and get it. It was just fun.

Upon signing with CSKA, you called your new team "an NBA-level club in the EuroLeague." There's been some discussion lately as to whether a select few EuroLeague clubs could compete in the NBA. Recently, Isaiah Canaan said that a couple of EuroLeague teams could slip into the NBA playoffs. What's your take?

It's very interesting. You have players over here who can make the jump and play in the NBA. Certain teams could slip into the NBA playoffs, especially with the play-in game. You can have a team that's ninth or tenth make that play-in game, and they would have to win two games to make the playoffs.

I believe that it could happen. So, I agree.

To what extent does the EuroLeague as a competition bear any resemblance to the NBA, and how do you think it could improve?

It's helluva basketball. It's great, physical basketball, more physical than I thought it was going to be. To me, that's fun and exciting.

You get this knack on European players that they flop a lot, and since I've been over here, you have that, but it's not everyone.

Some people are physical and want to get through you instead of flopping, like my teammate Toko Shengelia. Then, we have Will Clyburn or Nikola Milutinov, who don't flop either. Iffe Lundberg is young, but he doesn't flop. Joel (Bolomboy) is the same.

Then, we have Marius (Grigonis), who might flop a little bit here and there, but that's part of his game and personality. There are guys who know how to play the game the right way and get those calls.

In the NBA, you had the same. They cracked down a little bit this year, but last year, guys got the calls because they knew what they were doing.

In Europe, there are guys who know how to manipulate the referees and make the calls go in their favor. It can be a little frustrating, but I'm learning how to deal with it.

In the NBA, you funnel people to certain places. Here you want to play straight-up and keep your man off-balance. Refs in Europe call more fouls with arms and hands being up.

For me, it's about learning how to use my defensive prowess to my advantage but without getting those fouls called. I got called an unsportsmanlike foul because I did a regular NBA foul, and I forgot you can't really foul like that.

Credit Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS-Scanpix

Do people in the NBA automatically label European players as floppers?

No, it doesn't work that way. But if you go to the NBA and think that it has worked for you in Europe, in the NBA, you got to earn it. I love that.

Adjusting to a new brand of basketball can be a tricky venture. Is there anything in particular that has made things easier or harder in your transition to the EuroLeague?

Just how the calls go. It's kind of frustrating. I'm big and athletic, so I go and get a rebound. But when I'm going up, they use their legs to knock me off balance, keeping their arms straight.

In the NBA, you get those calls, whereas, in Europe, they won't call it. That's the difficult part for me: adjusting to the refs.

But other than that, the game is still physical. I play hard, with my heart on my sleeve, every time I get out there. So, there's no change for me.

This season, we've seen former NBA players like OJ Mayo, Yogie Ferrell, Troy Daniels, Emmanuel Mudiay have a hard time adjusting to the EuroLeague. Of course, each case is different, but what's the main thing that can be lost in translation between NBA and Europe?

Every single possession is going to be physical, brutal, and needs a lot of running. If you're not in tip-top shape, you can get lost here and think, "I'm not getting certain calls."

Screening is also a little tricky for me because when I screen, people like to run into me. The refs call an illegal screen, and I ask myself: "What am I doing wrong?".

Usually, guys try to fight over and funnel it down into a different angle, whereas in Europe, if you switch on to a guard, someone might help. In the NBA, if you switch, you guard your man the best way you can and make him take a mid-range shot.

When you signed with CSKA, Nikola Milutinov was injured. He was picked by the Spurs in 2015, but this year his rights were traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Have you talked about him playing in the NBA some time?

No, I haven't. That's not his focus right now. His focus is playing EuroLeague for CSKA and staying healthy. He's a great, solid big who patrols the paint. I try to encourage him the best way I can and help him out. Every time, I go hard against him.

You were a key piece to the USA team that won the gold medal in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain in 2014. You were also among the 30 finalists ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games. Could you take us backstage of how the American team prepared for international competitions, at least when you were on it?

We wanted it to work as players. We put that jersey on and represented our country, our pride, and ourselves.

We didn't say, "We're better than anyone else, so we should play more minutes." No, we were all in this together, we're all great players and figure it out.

That was Mike Krzyzewski's main talking point, our golden standard: If you want the gold, leave your egos at the door because it doesn't matter how many minutes you play or how many All-Star games you've got.

We were pressing and running a lot. It was fun and exciting. No one cared about who scored the ball. All we cared about was how much we won by and how we would keep winning.

Nikola Jokic was named NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2021. He became the first player in the Denver Nuggets franchise and the first center to win the award since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, in addition to being the lowest-drafted player in NBA history to claim the honor.

You've witnessed his entire trajectory first-hand, at least from 2015 through 2018, when he had already become a star. Could you describe a little bit how he was as a player and as a person?

Very humble. He doesn't really care about accolades or the media. He just wants his team to win and be on the court when it matters the most.

We've had some turbulence at moments during his young career. It was confusing who was going to play or start. The organization made adjustments, basically fitting Nikola; because they - and we as players - saw something in him that was going to lead to greatness.

He didn't care about who scored or who was out there with him. He was going to do the little things to help his team win. He was rebounding the ball and assisting well. He had a nice soft touch around the rim, especially from three.

The organization saw what kind of player he was. I already saw that in him. I was like, "Wow! Our big man can see me as a "4" running down the court. When I was young, it was Andre Miller and Ty Lawson throwing those passes.

Then, Nikola Jokic became that guy, throwing me lob passes. At first, I was surprised and shocked that our 5-man sees me as nobody else can or like my point guards of old used to. I loved it!

When we gave the ball to him in the post, he wasn't looking to score all the time. He would even throw me some hook-lobs.

It's just beautiful basketball because I didn't need to screen for the guard to go get those passes. I could be out on the perimeter a little bit and make a cut, or at the dunker's spot and circle around as he goes baselining.

Pick n' roll was never a problem for me because I love screening. But I didn't want to do much on the post. Nikola was looking for people to cut to draw three guys on him. It was like Christmas day for me.

Did you expect him to reach such big heights?

I didn't expect him to be the MVP, but I knew he was going to be an All-Star. Basically, I didn't expect him to lose the weight that he lost and get as slim and agile as he did. But once he did it, he became super special.

If you were allowed to bring in only one of your ex-NBA teammates to Europe, who would you pick?

I would bring in Ty Lawson. From current NBA players, I'd pick Joker. Why not? He was the NBA MVP, he also knows the Euro game just as he knows the NBA game.

You were raised by two gay women while growing up in New Jersey. You then became the first NBA player to join "Athlete Ally," an organization devoted to fighting homophobia in sports. What was the situation you were dealing with back then?

I was raised by two gay women, but I also had my dad in my life also. So, a male figure was around as well.

My two mothers treated me as their son. When I was first coming out about it, it was like a taboo. Now, it's more accepted than anything.

I wasn't scared to support them, just like when Jason Collins came out saying he's gay, I supported him. I hit him up, telling him, "Hey, I'm here if you need me. I'm not gay, but I respect your decision to come out and show who you are as a person. I'm here if you need anything."

I don't judge anyone, and I definitely didn't judge my mom even when other people judged me for that.

Did you ever have to face discrimination?

Yes, I did. Because everybody thought I'm gay, they were calling me disgusting. It wasn't people from the sports community. It was fans and people on the streets.

I thought that my mom is happy, so I don't care. I used to fight people who used to be my friends or neighbors.

When I was in Kentucky, the situation was weird. People were looking at me like they wanted to hurt me.

I'm 32 now, but when you first hear it and go through it, you think: "Wow! How hateful and disrespectful the world can be!". I love two women, one of whom happens to be my birth mother, and the other one is my other mother.

I still have my dad in my life, supporting me. If you don't support me on what I support, then you're not meant to be in my life.

I think the situation now has gotten a lot better. Being gay is like a trend or something. But you got to have all those people who stepped up first in order to make it OK to support those things.

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2-pointers this season

Points made: 27,6
Accuracy: 54,9%
Place in standings: 14
Record max: 36
Record min: 20
Most made 2FGs: Nikola Jokic