Kenneth Faried never took the easy path.
Raised on the 24th floor of a high-rise apartment in Newark, N.J., Faried could have fallen into the traps — drugs, gangs — that snare too many young people who grow up in the grittiest American cities.
When he chose to leave behind the urban groove of Newark to play college basketball in small-town Kentucky at Morehead State, Faried could have given in to the homesickness that overwhelmed him at first.
Once he began to blossom into a standout player for MSU Coach Donnie Tyndall, Faried could have transferred to a more prominent basketball school where it would have been easier to achieve acclaim.
Instead, Faried stayed at Morehead State four years and led the school to its greatest basketball heights, culminating in 2011 with an NCAA Tournament upset of Louisville. In a sport where scorers get the glory, Faried was a defensive and rebounding specialist who became a third-team AP All-American.
For those reasons, the commonwealth's sports media have voted Kenneth Faried the 2011 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.
"Faried's picture will be somewhere inside the pamphlet Morehead State sends to prospective students from now until the end of time, and it should be," wrote Brent Carney of Lexington's WLEX-TV. "... he always seemed to be conscious that he was first and foremost an ambassador for his school."
Faried has "one of the greatest 'motors' in all of sports," wrote Mike Cameron of Lexington's WLXG radio, "and a personality that lights up everything."
The ex-Morehead star became the 31st winner of the Sportsman of the Year award after a tight three-person battle with University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari and Bellarmine University men's hoops coach Scott Davenport.
At various times in the vote counting, all three held the lead. Faried ultimately defeated Calipari by nine points and Davenport by 46. The nine-point margin between first and second is the second closest in the history of the award. In 1998, Tubby Smith beat Tim Couch by five points.
With a team that lost six SEC regular-season games, Calipari nevertheless led UK to its first Final Four appearance since 1998.
"After falling short of a Final Four (in 2010) with a team full of (NBA) first-rounders, Cal and the Cats finally gave the Big Blue Nation what it had been craving," wrote Steve Moss of Lexington's WKYT-TV.
Added Lachlan McLean of Louisville's WHAS radio: "Breaking UK's Final Four drought will make you number one in this state any time."
Davenport had especially strong support from Louisville media members after coaching Bellarmine University to the school's first-ever NCAA Division II men's basketball national title.
"An amazing turnaround for the Knights," wrote Jody Demling of The Courier-Journal. "Davenport has done wonders for a program that was in shambles before he took over. Now, the Knights are national champions."
Wrote Paul Rogers of WHAS radio: "The beloved 'Coach D' did an incredible job of winning the national championship while also creating enormous goodwill with his team, university and the city. A true feel-good story."
Rounding out the top five finishers were former UK men's basketball folk hero Josh Harrellson in fourth and Trinity High School football coach Bob Beatty, whose undefeated Shamrocks were named mythical national champions by several outlets, in fifth.
Faried was victorious even though he got fewer first-place votes (seven) than Davenport (19), Calipari (17) and Harrellson (12) (voters list a top 10 with points assigned in descending order for each place on the ballot).
The ex-Morehead State star won because he was ranked in the top four on 40 ballots (including 17 second-place votes) and was listed on the most ballots overall — 70 of the 93 that were cast. Calipari was named on 61 ballots and Davenport 53.
Faried ended his MSU career with 1,673 rebounds, the NCAA "modern record" (since 1973). When Denver selected him No. 22 overall, Faried became the first Morehead player ever taken in the first round of an NBA Draft. The ex-MSU big man also left Morehead with his degree.
"Faried is one of the most competitive basketball players I have ever seen in person," wrote Howie Lindsey of Louisville SportsReport (Rivals).
Added Ron Bailey of The Ledger Independent in Maysville: "Faried not only left a lasting legacy on Morehead, but on college basketball."
Kenneth Faried is the 2011 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com