Q&A with Kenneth Faried


BARCELONA, Spain -- If they chose an All-Interview Team here at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Kenneth Faried would undoubtedly be the first name submitted.

Put him down as a strong contender for the All-Tournament, too.

In our quadrennial quest between Olympic tournaments to pinpoint a Team USA breakout star or two whose impactful play for the national team sets him up to raise his NBA stature in the coming season, Faried and Klay Thompson are the two prime candidates from the youngest squad USA Basketball has fielded since it started using NBA players in place of collegians in 1992.

Four years ago in Turkey, it was Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and eventual 2011 MVP Derrick Rose who used a title run at the 2010 FIBA World Championship as a springboard for the best NBA ball of their careers to that stage. In Espana, while Thompson is increasingly providing a crucial source of perimeter punch off the bench, Faried has been a start-to-finish spark for Team USA with his relentless energy, ferocity around the rim and the unmistakable chip on his shoulder that he refuses to surrender.

Kenneth Faried at World Cup (8 games)

His jumper and face-up game still clearly need work, but Team USA wasn't even halfway through its World Cup schedule when Mike Krzyzewski was moved to proclaim the Denver Nuggets' power forward to be his "biggest and best surprise."

Faried's unfiltered give-and-take with the media, furthermore, has likewise made him a go-to guy for World Cup reporters. An example is the line that has become Faried's mantra for the week, as he continues to hit back at suggestions that his success here couldn't be replicated against bigger teams or better athletes as "massively disrespectful."

It hasn't been easy to get him alone, because of his unexpectedly prominent role and that willingness to speak so openly -- as evidenced again Thursday night when Faried talked about Spain's demise -- but ESPN.com managed to corner him a couple times on the trip for some one-on-one discussion.

The highlights:

Q: Starting power forward for the United States of America. What goes through your mind when you hear that?

A: I don't know. I'm speechless. It's just all a dream come true for me, and I don't want this dream to end. I don't want to let go.

Q: So it hasn't sunk in by now?

A: It really hasn't. And I hope it never sinks in 'til after we win the gold. I'm still thinking I'm playing like I'm trying to get a position [on this team].

Q: Back in Vegas when this team got together, what were your expectations?

A: ‎My expectation was probably to make the team, maybe make it as one of the 12th men, and hopefully win the gold, cheer my teammates on. I was excited about that. But everything seemed to fall into place. I exceeded those expectations. And I'm ecstatic about it.

Q: Obviously you don't play the same kind of game as Kevin Durant, but technically you are the Durant replacement in the starting lineup. What kind of extra burden does that put on you?‎

A: It's not a big burden to me. ‎Honestly it's just, he was tired, which we understood. He played the most minutes in the [league last] year. I was more thinking of it as: "Hey, it's an opportunity more than a burden. It's an opportunity for me to show the world that, hey, I'm Kenneth Faried. And they don't call me The Manimal for nothing."

Q: So guys were really weren't mad or disappointed when Durant removed himself from the roster?

A: No. We all understood. We respected his decision. We said: "Get your rest and we'll see you in the regular season. But we still want to go after this gold right here and get this World Cup."

Q: When Coach K laid out the role he had in mind for you, what were his instructions?

‎A: His message was they need me. They need me to step up and be a leader and vocal and be one of the loudest people on the court. He wants me to be the loudest and make sure everybody [does] what they're supposed to do. In the press to make sure I'm up and make sure the guards are up. Make sure we get up into people and wreak havoc basically.

Q: How does that job description compare to what you do for the Nuggets?

A: This is different right now. In Denver I'm not really as vocal. I'm kind of vocal, but I didn't think my voice really mattered in Denver. For us to be at this level, playing for the United States and the coach says your voice matters and we need you to be loud and we need you to be who you are, it's just an honor.

Q: I would have thought your voice would have mattered even more in Denver as one of the stars of the team ...

A: In Denver, I would be considered one of the top players on our team, but we have older vets on our team, guys who've been through it. ... So I more take the back seat and watch them guys and try to learn off of them. But for Coach [K] to say that to me on the USA team, I'm gonna take that back to Denver and now try to be more of the vocal leader.

Q: The other big concern about Team USA coming into this tournament, besides matching up with Spain, was its relative lack of international experience ...

A: I don't think it's a concern at all. We all know how to play basketball. We're all great at our craft, One through five, it doesn't matter if it's international or in the NBA. We're going to be fine.

Q: A lot of people are wondering how your success with the national team this summer will impact your contract talks with the Nuggets. How do you see it?

A: I'm starting to gain respect. People are starting to respect me more. And I'm excited about that. But I'm more focused right now on just trying to get the gold. I want to win that gold medal so I can hang it with the rest of the accolades I've gotten that people thought I couldn't get. My mom will be ecstatic about that and my dad will be, too.‎

Q: How can you really resist thinking about the contract stuff?

A: I'm not worried about [the Oct. 31 deadline for a contract extension] right now. After this is over with, then I'll focus on what's going on outside of just stepping on the court and moneywise and things like that. [But] I do feel as though I've opened eyes, and people are starting to show respect now. So that's a great honor to have and recognize who you are.