Kenny Kadji commits to Donovan, Gators

The Cameroon-Paris-to the US-to Florida connection will continue at the University of Florida. It worked well enough for Joakim Noah that he was the ninth selection in Thursday’s NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. Now let’s see if it will have the same results for Kenny Kadji, the 6-10, 250-pound big man from Bradenton’s IMG Academy. The Cameroon native has completed another leg of that journey by making his next move to the Florida Gators.

Kadji ended the worst kept secret in basketball recruiting today when it was announced that he has committed to Coach Billy Donovan and the Gators, joining Erving Walker and Ray Shipman in Florida’s recruiting class of 2008.

Kadji, who came to the US two years ago from Paris, is originally from Cameroon where his father runs a sports academy. When Matt Ramker brought him to his Florida Rams AAU program a year and a half ago, Kadji didn’t speak any English and had to learn how to adjust socially in the United States. He’s made all the transitions well, according to Matt Ramker, who runs the Rams.

“He’s a great kid,” said Ramker, who now has five NBA players that have come through his AAU programs with the drafting of Gators Chris Richard (second round, Minnesota Timberwolves) and Taurean Green (second round, Portland Trailblazers) Thursday night. “When he came to us a year and a half ago, he spoke zero English and it was tough for him at first to adapt to the social and classroom settings. His mother and father are a very polished, polite, well-mannered family. He knows how to act in social settings and how to carry himself. He’s just done a tremendous job of adapting to his surroundings and his situation.”

Kadji has continually improved since those first practices with the Rams. He’s gone from a total project to a talented kid that still understands there is plenty of room to improve. In some areas he is still raw and learning, but in others, he’s starting to grasp the game and take off.

“He’s only played going on three years in the United States now, but he does come from an athletic background,” said Ramker. “His dad runs a sports academy in Cameroon so there was coaching and then the year he went to ninth grade over in Paris, he got a lot of very good instruction.

“He had some difficulty adjusting to the American game at first because we do play it differently over here but he wants to be good, he wants to be great and he wants to be coached, so that’s helped him get better. You can see it almost every day, almost every practice.”

When Ramker brought Kadji to the Florida Rams, he had some good guards but he didn’t have an experienced big guy in the middle. Kadji pretty much got thrown into the fire from the beginning but it didn’t take long before he started to show that he was going to be a player.

“About two or three tournaments after he started playing with us, he started to emerge and you could see the desire he had to become a better player,” said Ramker. “He really does want to be coached. My coaches, Travis Jones and Mark Lieberman, deserve all the credit because they’ve worked him hard and they’ve helped to bring him to the level he’s at now.”

At the NBA Development Camp last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, Kadji once again made great strides. By the end of the week, he was one of the most dominant big guys in the camp, which featured the best young players in the country. Ramker said that by week’s end, Kadji had begun to assert himself more on the defensive end and he’s become a serious presence as a scorer in the low blocks.

Ramker says it all begins with things that can’t be taught.

“I think you can first off point to his overall size,” said Ramker. Kadji is 6-10 and still growing, plus he’s already 250 pounds. He’s only going to add more muscle and tone to an already college-ready body. “Unlike a lot of kids that come to college, Kenny isn’t going to have to put on a ton of weight and muscle to get ready. He’s already got the fame and the body to develop into a solid player.

“He’s become very tough blocking shots and under the tutelage of Coach Donovan at Florida, you’re going to notice a better offensive game. He’s starting to emerge as an effective low block scorer but where you’re going to see him improve the most is in that area of low block scoring and his overall feel for the game. Those are going to be the great overall improvements that you’ll see.”

Kadji already has the ability to put the ball on the floor and explode to the basket. He has a good set of offensive moves and his jump shot has range that is expanding. More and more he’s starting to look like a clone of Marreese Speights, another Ramker product that is with the Gators.

Kadji will be joining Florida Rams teammate Ray Shipman at Florida. Shipman, a 6-5, 205-pound wing from Monsignor Pace in Opa-Locka, committed to the Gators last week. With Speights already at Florida, two on the way to the Gators and both Richard and Green getting drafted by the NBA, it’s been quite a week for Ramker.

“I’m really happy for Kenny Kadji,” said Ramker. “He’s going to Florida where he’s going to play for a great coach and a great coaching staff. There’s a reason the kids we’ve had want to go there. I believe they do a tremendous job of developing kids in every way — on the court, in the classroom and as people. I think anyone would be happy to see their players going to such a nurturing environment like the one Coach Donovan has built at Florida.”

With the commitment of Kadji, the Gators are expected to go after one more big man in their recruiting class of 2008. In this past week, Angel Garcia (6-10, 225, East Chicago, IN Central) and Storm Warren (6-8, 225, Monroe, LA Richwood) have been on campus. A commitment from one of those two big guys could happen in the next couple of weeks.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.