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Back to basics

Kimani Ffriend returns to roots, hopes to give back to local basketball

BY DWAYNE RICHARDS
Observer writer

Friday, February 09, 2018

At 40 years old, Kimani Ffriend says it is time for him to give back to the nation of his birth in the sport that he loves.

The former NBA star is back home in Jamaica and will be suiting up in the National Basketball League (NBL) that gets going on Saturday.

After a five year hiatus, the league returns this weekend and Ffriend, more than anyone else, could not be happier.

The Ardenne High School past student who was present at the launch of the new season at the Jamaica Olympic Association on Wednesday, believes it is time for a rebirth of the sport and is ready to play his part.

Ffriend is one of Jamaica's most recognisable basketball players and not just because of his height. He last played in the world's biggest basketball league a decade ago, but is ready to lace up and get back to the courts where it all started for him.

“I last played in the USA in 2007 with the LA Clippers and from then I was based in Europe where I played in the Euro League for teams like AFC Barcelona, I also played in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Israel, Russia... I played in the top-five best leagues in Europe,” he explained.

The basketball “journeyman” wants to help raise the profile of the local game.

“My motivation to play in the National Basketball League (NBL) is basically that I want to give back. As a professional basketball player that is still playing I think I would help to give the league credibility.

“If someone like myself was to be a part of it right now, hopefully you would have guys like me who are Jamaicans coming back home, who played professionally or who are still playing professionally.

“So hopefully when they hear that I am playing in the league they will in turn have the motivation and then there would be more quality and the more attractive the league will be,” Ffriend noted.

He says that his role is to help to attract more superstars to the league as well as provide motivation for the younger players in the league.

“I came out of the youth system here in Jamaica, so when I get myself out there and people know my story and see that a former NBA player, who came out of Jamaica and made it to the highest level of basketball has come back and is playing in the local league, I think that says a lot.”

He is hoping that his “Ffriend-ly” face will have some pulling power to help attract sponsors the league so desperately needs.

“I see myself as an ambassador for the NBL, trying to promote the league and get more people aware, especially the sponsors. So when the league is up and running, then hopefully the sponsors will see and when they see someone like me playing maybe they will want to be involved, because at the end of the day we need the support,” he reasoned.

It goes without saying that he considers playing in the NBA as the highlight of his long basketball career.

“Internationally, I would say the highlight of my career was having the opportunity to step on an NBA court, that would be my greatest achievement. But overall, having just the success of being a Jamaican and coming from where I am came from, to be able to go abroad and make a name for myself, I think overall that is my greatest achievement.”

The “big man” believes that basketball can rival the other top sports in the country, if put on the correct footing.

“Basketball is not where it should be here in Jamaica. The potential is there but we need to get it up there and we need to get it better because basketball is one of the fastest growing sports in Jamaica.

“I believe personally that we have the potential for basketball to rival the football, the cricket and the track and field here, because people love basketball here. But the way how the league is right now and the way how basketball is right now in Jamaica, it's not good,” he argued.

Ffriend will be turning out for his boyhood club and is excited about playing in the National Arena once more.

“I will be turning out for the Running Rebels, I actually played for them before I left Jamaica after high school, so I am looking forward to playing here. Being back in Jamaica among my countrymen at the National Arena, for me it's just a great feeling, a gratifying feeling to be able to come back here and to play in front of my countrymen,” he noted.

Twenty-three teams from the four conferences, Southern, Eastern, Central and Western will vie for the championship trophy beginning at 5:00 pm at the National Arena tomorrow.

Ffriend is back in Jamaica after serving a three-year manslaughter sentence after his Skoda Fabia motorcar hit and killed a Serbian woman on a rainy Belgrade morning on November 3, 2012.

The Jamaican was in Serbia where he played professionally with Belgrade's Metalac Valjevo and was due to make a move to Spain's CB Valladolid when the accident occurred.