September 30, 2014

DENVER (AP) Coach K believed in him, enough to even ask him to take charge of the team. All Stars listened to him, too, especially at crunch time.

So, yeah, Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried is soaring with confidence heading into the season. He's ready to take his high-flying game to even new heights and become more of a leader after guiding Mike Krzyzewski's U.S. squad to a championship at the Basketball World Cup over the summer.

The gold medal around his neck, the one he proudly wore over his Nuggets jersey on media day, is simply more validation that he can perform at an All-Star level.

Not that the player nicknamed ''Manimal'' ever really doubted that.

''I've been believing my whole life I could be a star - a superstar in this league,'' said Faried, who averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season. ''I don't believe I take a back seat to nobody.''

Nuggets coach Brian Shaw didn't exactly know what he had in Faried last season. Sure, Faried was extremely athletic, but what to do with his unique skill set? Now that was a quandary.

It took some time for Shaw to find a solution - let Faried run, of course. And run and run and run.

Shaw took all the brakes off Faried after they made a deal: Pursue defensive rebounds as passionately as he did on the offensive glass and Faried could push the ball up the court.

Faried was good with that, and the fast-paced Nuggets got even speedier.

''I gave him the freedom to use that raw energy and athleticism to get our break going,'' Shaw said. ''I envision that in this coming season.''

After all, Faried is playing for a potentially big payday. The Nuggets have until Oct. 31 to offer him a contract extension. If a deal doesn't get done by then, he's set be a restricted free agent next summer.

''He knows how much we value him,'' general manager Tim Connelly said.

There were times early last season when Faried didn't feel all that wanted in Denver, as though he wasn't part of the bigger plan for the team. He has almost a laissez faire attitude toward his hoops future.

''I would love to be in Denver for a while. I'd love to be a lifer,'' said Faried, a first-round pick in 2011 out of Morehead State. ''If things don't work out, then I have to move on.

''I'm one of those players you can stick in anywhere, and I'm going to produce. It doesn't matter who it is or who it's against.''

Faried displayed that this summer.

Some may argue that perhaps Faried backed his way onto the U.S. roster, with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love skipping the tournament.

''Disrespectful,'' Faried said, shaking his head. ''Knew I was going to make the team the whole time. I wasn't worried.''

Once on the team, he flourished as he averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in nine starts. But it was something Krzyzewski said that lit a fire under Faried. Krzyzewski, who doubles as Duke's coach, wanted him to step up and take charge of the team.

So, he did.

''It just registered,'' Faried said. ''It's like, `Hey, you can do anything. You can go out there and win the gold. You can go out there and compete with these guys. And in the NBA, you can do the same thing.'''

Especially since his teammates looked to him for advice during the world tournament. Against Turkey, Faried issued some stern words with his team struggling and they responded as the squad rebounded from a rare deficit at halftime to win 98-77. Faried had 22 points in the contest.

''I challenged my teammates and these guys are All Stars,'' Faried said. ''They didn't look at me and say, `Shut up' or anything like that. They said, `You're right.'''

His Nuggets teammates already see a more assertive Faried.

''He definitely wants to be a leader,'' point guard Ty Lawson said. ''He just has to show everybody on the court that he's producing. I think then everyone else will follow.''

No trouble there.

''This is the year,'' Faried said. ''If any year was to be the year to be that player, that All-Star, that, `OK, every team has to game plan around me,' this is the year.''

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