Hapoel Jerusalem added an important new friend last week, as it prepares to defend its ULEB Cup title, with the signing of Kimani Ffriend. The 2.11m native of Jamica should be a more than capable replacement for Tunji Awojobi, who left Jerusalem this summer to play in Belgium.
The signing of Ffriend was Jerusalem's first significant move to bolster their lineup since losing all three of their foreign players this summer, in addition to the likely departure of Doron Shefer. Jerusalem also recently signed combo guard William Avery, who starred for Hapoel Tel Aviv this past season.
Ffriend is a big, athletic man who is best known for his rebounding and shot blocking. He has also been a double digit scorer throughout his career.
There are many parallels between Ffriend and Awojobi's careers. Both are from non-basketball playing countries (Awojobi is Nigerian) and took up the sport in their late teens. Both possessed a wealth of raw athletic talent and only began to develop their potential while playing college ball in the U.S.
Big men are traditionally known for developing later then others; in the case of players like Ffriend, who didn't grow up around the game of basketball, this is particularly true.
Ffriend starred in track and soccer before reaching his present height and turning to basketball. The 27-year-old Jamaician played two seasons of junior college basketball in the States beginning in 1997. He followed that with two seasons at University of Nebraska where he finished as the fourth best shot blocker in school history.
Ffriend was not drafted by an NBA team after college. Sinc then, he's had trials with Washington, the New York Knicks, Miami and this summer Sacramento.
Israel will be the sixth country that Ffriend will be playing in professionally. His career really began to take off last season while playing for Zeleznik Reflex of Belgrade. He helped his club reach the semi-finals of the ULEB Cup and was dominant on both ends of the court in their victories over Hapoel Jerusalem, averaging over 18 points and 9 rebounds. His performance last season was instrumental in Hapoel's decision to sign Ffriend. Coach Sharon Drucker told Haaretz, " I saw Kimani play against us four times last season and was very impressed. He is very talented, and to improve."
Before signing Avery, Jerusalem made sure to bolster its defense. A shot blocker like Ffriend is really a teammate's best friend, there to clean up mistakes when an opposing player gets past his defender.
"Kimani fits the direction that we want to go in", says Drucker. "He's a very athletic, intelligent big man and we realize we'll need a strong and quick frontline in order to succeed among the competition we'll meet in the ULEB Cup this season.
Kimani Ffriend's career appears on the rise and Hapoel Jerusalem hopes its basketball fortunes will continue to rise as well.
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