AUSTIN, Texas — If things had worked out just a little bit differently, Kenny Kadji would have been playing for Florida in tonight's second-round NCAA Tournament game.
Instead, he's playing for Miami this afternoon.
Nagging back problems and an inability to hone his role with the Gators led Kadji to transfer three years ago. But when the fifth-year senior forward ran into some of his former teammates and coaches Thursday afternoon, Kadji said he was thrilled.
"I don't have anything but respect for them," said Kadji, 6 feet 11, 242 pounds. "It was a great time; a great two years at the University of Florida. And I couldn't be more happy that I had that opportunity and experience."
Kadji played just eight games as a sophomore in 2009-10 because of a herniated disc, averaging 1.0 points and 0.8 rebounds. In two seasons in Gainesville, he played in 42 games, averaging 3.7 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Kadji, 24, had been recruited by Miami out of high school (IMG Academy in Bradenton), and his brother was a student there. So the transition, including sitting out 2010-11, was natural.
Now 20 pounds lighter, his back is no longer an issue. Along the way, Kadji has transformed his game, and this season, he was named second-team All-ACC. He has started all 33 games, averaging 13.3 points (second on the team) and 7.0 rebounds (first) and shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range (third).
"I've been able to do more things at Miami," the Cameroon native said. "Just playing my game, shoot the ball more, put the ball on the floor and get on the post. I think at Florida, my role was a little bit different. I had to be more of a defensive guy, and I was playing more in the post. Here, I just expanded my game."
His teammates say he is the quintessential team player.
"He's brought a completely new dimension to our team," senior forward Julian Gamble said.
"His impact is incredible," sophomore guard Shane Larkin said. "You know when he's not on the court because the defense can shrink in. But with him as a stretch (power forward), it puts a lot of pressure on the defense because you can't leave him open at the 3-point line. And it opens up a lot of driving lanes for me and the other guards. And he's a great shot blocker. He intimidates people at the rim."
When coach Jim Larranaga arrived at Miami two years ago, he and his staff immediately focused on learning as much as possible about each player. Very quickly, Larranaga said, he realized Kadji was unique.
He studies the game intently, watches tons of tape and is knowledgeable about every college and NBA team. Perhaps most important, he was willing to do anything asked of him if it would help him improve.
"He really dedicated himself," Larranaga said. "We already knew he was a great 3-point shooter; one of the finest stretch (power forwards) in the country and has the ability to make deep 3s. But he's also 6-11 and has a long reach and great athletic ability in and around the basket.
"So we have tried to take advantage of all of his skills, his inside scoring ability as well as his 3-point shooting. I think he's made a great transition to this coaching staff and has helped us enjoy the success that we have had."