Brian Lester, NCAA.com

Forget about the odds stacked against him or the idea that failure was more likely than success for Kenneth Faried. As a child growing up in Newark, N.J., the Morehead State standout knew he was going to escape the fate so many others his age never do and make something of himself.

“You see a lot in Newark. There are gangs, people getting shot and drugs. It makes you want a better life,” Faried said. “I didn’t want to end up dead or in jail. I didn’t want to be another statistic. I wanted to be special.”

Consider his mission accomplished. Behind an unbreakable will to be the best, Faried has established himself as one of the brightest stars in the game in a small college town in Kentucky.

The 6-foot-8 forward/center, who always flashes a wide smile and wears long dreadlocks, is the leading rebounder in the nation, grabbing 14.2 rebounds per outing. By the end of his career, he could be the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history.

That in itself is impressive. But there is more.

Faried, the 29th player in MSU history to score 1,000 career points, is also closing in on the all-time lead for double-doubles. He is second in the nation this season with 19.

Faried was right. He didn’t become a statistic. The reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year just puts them up at a head-spinning rate.

“Passion and drive. Those are the keys to success,” Faried said. “I play hard and I want to do what I can to help my team compete for an OVC championship.”

MSU is on the right track. The Eagles are 17-8 overall and 9-4 in the conference, winning 11 of their last 13 games. Only Murray State, the defending champ, has a better record, sitting at 10-3 in league play.

Faried has guided the Eagles to the cusp of a third consecutive 20-win season, something that has never happened at the school. He is carving up opponents for 17 points per outing and has flexed his muscle in the paint, leading the team in rebounding in every game this season.

Opponents come into games against MSU determined to slow down Faried. However, with two other players scoring in double figures and a total of five clicking for six points or more per game, stopping a plane racing down a runway before take-off might be more likely than keeping Faried in check.

“I painted a target on my back and a lot is expected of me,” Faried said. “Teams expect me to play hard and I expect them to play hard. But I have good teammates around me, and while I get a lot of attention, the guys around me do a good job. We play team ball and that is important because everyone takes their best shot at us.”

Faried credits the toughness he forged on the rough streets of Newark for his success.

“You learn how to survive and that experience helped make me a tough player,” Faried said. “My family kept me driven and hungry. They pushed me to succeed and to live the right way.”

NBA scouts have taken notice of what Faried brings to the table, with the Boston Celtics, Portland Trailblazers and Indiana Pacers showing a lot of interest in him. He has even been compared to former NBA great Dennis Rodman, who actually called Faried once.

Rodman’s advice was simple.

“He told me to keep working hard and to not get too caught up in all of the hype,” Faried said. “He said it was important to stay focused.”

Focus hasn’t been a problem for Faried, who has grabbed 1,520 rebounds and needs 50 more to tie San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan for the most ever. With 76 double-doubles, he is 11 shy of tying Duncan at the top of that chart as well.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be a player like Tim Duncan,” Faried said. “He has amazing skills in the post and has no quit. Even when he is hurt, he is tough enough to keep going. I’m happy to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. It’s also very humbling.”

The opportunity to one day break Duncan’s records influenced Faried’s decision to return for his senior season. He also wanted to finish school.

“I am glad I came back,” Faried said. “I love the college experience and the chance to break records. The fans love you here and I‘ve had a lot of fun. But it will also be fun to get my degree. I am more than a basketball player. I am an intelligent person and proud of what I have accomplished.”

Faried was destined for stardom when he arrived on campus in 2007. He was named to the OVC All-Newcomer team and earned Associated Press honorable mention All-American honors last season.

He has played in the NCAA tourney once, leading the Eagles to a 58-43 play-in game win over Alabama A&M in 2009. Top-seeded Louisville ended the magical run, dropping the Eagles 71-54 in the opening round.

“It was so much fun to play in the tournament,” Faried said. “The atmosphere was awesome. I want to go back.”

MSU will have a chance to dance again if it can win the OVC tournament and earn an automatic bid. The Eagles are seeking redemption after falling 62-51 to Murray State in the 2010 conference final.

Although Faried is focused on finishing out his career on a positive note, he doesn’t mind peaking ahead to a potential future in the NBA. There will be an interesting twist to the draft this year. It will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark because of renovations being done at Madison Square Garden.

And for a player who once dreamed of leaving Newark to pursue his basketball dream, the venue change means he will come home to see his ultimate hoop dream come true in the city where the journey to greatness began.

“I would have been fine with the draft being in New York, but it is exciting that it’s in New Jersey,” Faried said. “It will be fun going home and it will be a neat moment. I’m looking forward to it. For now, my focus is on the season."

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Faried is nation's leading rebounder