MOREHEAD — Ty Proffitt had already launched into self recriminations. What are you doing? The ball is going to go over the backboard!
Morehead State was playing last season at Eastern Kentucky University. Proffitt had just dribbled across midcourt and noticed the Colonels in a 1-3-1 zone. The former South Laurel standout spotted MSU big man Kenneth Faried near the baseline and saw a chance for a lob pass over the zone.
From the moment the ball left his hands, Proffitt could tell it was going high. Way high.
Which just set up Proffitt's personal "Kenneth Faried moment."
"Kenneth, standing still, goes up with two hands, just grabs it from the top of the backboard and dunks it," said Proffitt, shaking his head. "I was like 'What do you do with something like this?' "
These are wistful times at Morehead State University. The improbable basketball journey that brought Faried from the gritty inner-city of Newark, N.J., to find basketball stardom and national acclaim at a regional university in the Eastern Kentucky mountains is near its end.
Last Saturday, the 6-foot-8 senior who has made prowess at rebounding, defense and dunking — and doing most of it with a smile — into a unique playing style all his own had his final regular-season home game.
MSU surprised its star (as well as women's hoops standout Chynna Bozeman) by retiring his jersey. On Wednesday, Faried will face archrival EKU for the final time in Richmond. After that, there are only three regular-season games left for Faried in the blue-and-gold No. 35 jersey.
In Morehead, people are reviewing the data-storage facilities of their minds for their own ultimate "Kenneth Faried moments."
The stories involve far more than dramatic tip dunks and blocked shots.
'He makes my day'
Morehead Coach Donnie Tyndall jokes that he's trying not to think about his star's college career ending lest he break into tears. Yet his favorite Kenneth Faried moment has nothing to do with basketball.
Tyndall says it was related to him by an MSU professor. Seems the educator was meeting with a female student who was saying that her car had recently gotten stuck in the snow.
For a good bit, the student sat immobile in the vehicle, her frustration mounting when she saw a police car nearby whose occupant did not offer to help.
Finally, she noticed a large man lay down his book bag. He soon started to push the car until it was unstuck.
As she was telling the story to the professor, the student happened to catch a glimpse of a newspaper picture from a Morehead State basketball game.
"Hey, that's the guy who pushed my car," she said.
Says Tyndall: "She had no idea who Kenneth was. To me, that's the story I think of when I think about Kenneth. With all the notoriety he's gotten, he's still the same happy-go-lucky Kenneth. He saw someone who needed help and didn't think one moment about helping."
This season, as Faried has led the nation in rebounding for most of the year, the national media and NBA scouts have beaten a path up I-64 to Morehead.
Faried has been featured in the pages of Sports Illustrated and on the college basketball section of ESPN.com.
On the Thursday night when I saw Morehead play Eastern Illinois, representatives from the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers (two of them) were watching Faried's every move.
Yet if all the attention has gone to the center's head, he's done a good job of hiding it.
Lindsay Adkins, the MSU student government president, got to know Faried when they had classes together as freshmen.
"When he sees me on campus now, he always says 'What's up, President?' and gives me this big military salute," Adkins said. "Every time, he makes my day."
Morehead State President Wayne D. Andrews says he, too, smiles every time he runs into Faried in the cafeteria.
"He calls me Mr. President," Andrews said with a laugh. "If he's changed, I haven't seen it. He's just a down-to-earth kid. You can tell he's been raised really well by his mom."
As the sands pass through the hour glass on Faried's Morehead career, people are taking stock of what he has meant to the school.
Without him, MSU would not have ended its 25-year NCAA Tournament drought in 2009. There haven't been an over-abundance of Morehead basketball players written about in SI.
"I know we couldn't spend this institution's entire marketing budget for a year and buy four pages in Sports Illustrated," said MSU Athletics Director Brian Hutchinson. "How much would it cost to get an ad on ESPN.com as big as the story they wrote about Kenneth? You couldn't. There's no way to quantify what he's meant to us, how could you?"
THE alley-oop dunk
Kenneth Faried's favorite Kenneth Faried moment was "playing in the NCAA Tournament. That's my best moment by far."
For everyone else, Faried has left a long litany of play-specific basketball memories.
Veteran MSU radio play-by-play man Chuck Mraz opts for a play against 7-foot-1 Alabama State center Chief Kickingstallionsims early in the 2009 NCAA tourney opening-round game.
Kickingstallionsims rolled toward the basket for what appeared to be a bunny layup — except that Faried, seemingly emerging from out of the mists, pinned the ball off the backboard.
"The Chief never knew what hit him," Mraz said. "I really believe that play set the tone for that whole game. Who knows if we win it if Kenneth doesn't block that ball?"
For his ultimate Faried moment, Morehead senior guard Demonte Harper leans toward a tip-in from a game last season with Eastern Illinois.
"A tip dunk over the top of, like, three people," Harper said. "(Faried's) neck was over the rim. I just stood there for a minute. I was like 'Wow. Wow. I've never seen that.' "
Former Morehead coach Wayne Martin chose the Faried play that happens to be my favorite, too.
Final seconds of the 2009 OVC Tournament, Morehead State and Austin Peay are locked in a tie. In a timeout, Tyndall called a set play.
For an alley-oop pass.
Who does that in a potentially game-winning situation with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake?
"That pass looked like it was going to the ceiling," Martin said. "Somehow, (Faried) got it, went up and slammed it."
OK, it turned out not to be the game winner. Morehead ultimately needed two overtimes to win, but Faried's alley-oop dunk remains one of the more electric plays I've ever seen on a basketball court.
In four years at Morehead, Kenneth Faried supplied a lot of moments like that.
Says Martin: "I feel better every time after I go and watch him play."
Pretty good legacy, that.