By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: Of the 50 or so text messages that Kenny Kadji received following his impressive performance in Tuesday’s preseason opener, his favorite came from his mother, Annie.
“You’re still not that good,” she wrote to him, a loving reminder not to get too impressed with himself after scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds in 12½ minutes during the second half of a 99-87 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kadji is in the hunt for the final roster spot on the Cavs, but coach Mike Brown warned that his scoring outburst in the second half doesn’t necessarily push him ahead of Henry Sims in the battle to be one of the Cavs’ big men. Sims’ final line of four points and a rebound in 6½ minutes is far less impressive, but Sims is a little more of a true center than Kadji, who can play in the middle, but whose game is better suited at power forward.
Brown said that’s the reason Sims was the first off the bench in the competition between Kadji and DeSagana Diop. He needed a center to play alongside rookie Anthony Bennett so he went with Sims, whom Brown says does a lot of the little things well that don’t necessarily show up in a box score. And with a detail-oriented coach like Brown, the little things are more important than a few extra points, since the minutes Sims and Kadji are vying for will be extremely limited barring an injury.
In fact, the need is more at center than power forward, since the Cavs already have Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao and Earl Clark all capable of playing power forward. Given the injury histories of Andrew Bynum and Varejao, the Cavs ideally would like to carry another center in case injury again inevitably strikes. That’s part of the reason they brought Diop to camp, but Brown didn’t play Diop until the final 3½ minutes of Tuesday’s scrimmage and it was immediately clear why. Diop labored getting up and down the floor, and it’s now apparent the 12-year veteran doesn’t have much of an NBA career left.
Kadji, however, got up 11 shots in a short amount of time (thanks to grabbing the rebound on a couple of his own misses), and he grabbed four offensive rebounds.
“It was a good experience,” Kadji said. “I just wanted to go out there and do what Coach wanted me to do: Bring energy and play hard. I got open a few times and my teammates found me.”
Kadji led the Miami Hurricanes to an ACC title last season and then went undrafted in June, in part because he’s already 25 years old — he’s only seven months younger than Bynum.
Kadji was born in France but spent most of his childhood in Cameroon, Africa. When he moved to the United States for basketball, some of his grades didn’t transfer and he was forced to attend IMG Academy. By the time he was able to choose a college, he began at the University of Florida before transferring to Miami, which forced him to sit out a year. He also received a medical hardship from the NCAA following back surgery during the 2009-10 season.
Add it all up and Kadji is already considerably older than most NBA rookies, which could’ve played a role in him going undrafted.
“The draft was disappointing, obviously,” Kadji said. “Now I have a chance with the Cavaliers. You can’t get any younger. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Kadji had offers to play overseas, but declined. He played on the Cavs’ summer league team and was eager to accept the invitation to training camp.
“I wanted to take a shot at my dream,” he said.
He presumably isn’t doing this for the money. His father, Gilbert Kadji, heads the group that produces Kadji-Beer. It is not distributed in the U.S., but is wildly popular in Cameroon similar to how Budweiser is viewed by Americans. Gilbert Kadji is reportedly one of the wealthiest men in Cameroon, and the family owns a home in West Palm Beach. His mother, Annie, will attend the Cavs’ preseason game Friday at the Orlando Magic.
Kadji and Sims are believed to be fighting for one roster spot, although the Cavs could conceivably keep both of them at the expense of a third point guard such as Matthew Dellavedova.
“He’s long, he’s athletic, he did some good things [Tuesday] night and he did some good things in [Saturday’s] intrasquad scrimmage, too,” Brown said of Kadji. “With his length athleticism, agility and quickness and all that stuff, if he continues to try to play hard, he can impact the game when he’s out there.”
Alonzo Gee (hamstring) was a full participant in practice Wednesday, but Brown said it was a noncontact practice. Tyler Zeller was again a limited participant as he recovers from a strained hip.
Neither Gee nor Zeller played in Tuesday’s preseason game, and it’s too early to tell if either will be available for Friday. But their injuries, along with the absence of Bynum, could postpone any roster cuts until next week simply because the Cavs need the extra practice bodies.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.