Thirsty for more: Hurricanes senior Kenny Kadji wants to add to championship legacy

Growing up in Douala, Cameroon, Kenny Kadji’s sports dreams were not about slam dunks and the NBA but scoring spectacular goals and playing for the famed French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain.

But nature burst that bubble. By his early teens, Kadji had sprouted to 6-feet-7 and outgrown soccer.

That turned into a pretty good deal for the University of Miami. Thanks in large part to Kadji, a 6-11 senior center, the ninth-ranked Hurricanes (24-6) are enjoying an historic season that continues Friday when UM, seeded No. 1, faces eighth-seeded Boston College in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.

Kadji has been a force for Miami all season, both at the offensive end, where his size and long-range shooting ability make him tough to cover, to the defensive side, where his long arms helped account for an average of 1.4 blocks per game, which ranks seventh in the ACC.

Last Saturday, Kadji helped the Hurricanes clinch an outright ACC regular season title by dropping 23 points and 12 rebounds during a 62-49 victory against Clemson that ended with UM players, coaches and even university President Donna Shalala snipping the nets at the BankUnited Center.

“We want more,” said Kadji, named second-team All-ACC on Monday. “We want more cutting nets, we want more celebration.”

If UM continues to defy expectations and wins Sunday’s championship game, the revelry may cross continents all the way to Africa and Cameroon where the celebrants undoubtedly would toast by hoisting bottles of Kadji-Beer.

The brew, a pale lager advertised as “100% Cameroonian and proud to be,” is produced by the Kadji Group, a family-owned string of companies run by Gilbert Kadji, Kenny’s father. Gilbert Kadji is reported to be one of the richest men in Cameroon and owns a home in Jupiter with his wife, Annie.

Kadji-Beer is not distributed in the United States, but is as well-known to Cameroonians as Miller or Budweiser are to Americans.

“You find it all over the country and all over the continent,” said Kadji, who doesn’t drink beer and has tried the family’s suds only once. “It’s like the national beer there.”

Kadji was born in France but grew up in Cameroon, a French-speaking country in west central Africa, until he was 12 and his future in basketball became apparent. He first went to France to play on the youth squad at Pau-Orthez, a powerhouse French club team that has produced NBA players including Boris Diaw.

At age 15, Kadji came to the U.S. to further his basketball career at IMG Academy in Bradenton, where he developed into one of the nation’s top college prospects.

In 2007, the Florida Gators were coming off their second consecutive national championship and Kadji admits to being “star struck” after meeting UF’s Joakim Noah and Al Horford during a recruiting visit to Gainesville.

Kadji chose to attend Florida but his two seasons there were mostly filled with injuries and disappointment. After his sophomore season was cut short by a herniated disk that required surgery, Kadji decided to transfer.

Florida coach Billy Donovan did not stand in Kadji’s way when he settled on Miami.

“It’s never been a talent issue with Kenny,” Donovan said recently. “I think for him, a fresh start was probably the best thing … I’ve always felt like Kenny is a gifted and talented player and when he’s focused and he’s working hard, the sky is the limit for him as a player.”

Kadji, averaging career highs of 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds after losing 20 pounds last summer and getting into the best shape of his life, doesn’t dispute Donovan’s assessment.

“He’s right,” Kadji said “Coach Donovan put me in a situation to be successful. I don’t think I was ready for my role there. I just had no idea about the grind of college basketball. The mistakes I made at Florida, I knew not to make here.”

Kadji has endured few missteps at UM. After a solid campaign as a junior in 2011-12, Kadji stepped up his game this season after Reggie Johnson was sidelined for eight games shortly before Christmas with a broken finger.

“I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the country,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.

Added former Duke star and ACC television analyst Mike Gminski: “He’s a shot blocker, a guy that can shoot threes and spread the offense. I think he has a game that’s going to translate to the next level.” ranks Kadji as the 110th-best prospect in June’s NBA draft and projects him to be selected in the second round or go undrafted. While his scouting report lists more positives, the biggest negative against Kadji is his age. Kadji lost an academic year after moving to the U.S. and an entire season following his transfer to UM and will be 25 in May.

But it’s his legacy at UM that Kadji said he’s most interested in.

“You always want to be remembered as a champion,” Kadji said.