A homecoming: SVC players get a chance to play close to home

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BENNINGTON — Starting today, the Southern Vermont College men's basketball team will play two games in three days at the Hoop MIA D3 Shootout down at Barry University in Miami.

Originally, the team was set to play in the Puerto Rico Tip-off, but the games were moved after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria a few months ago.

"When the storm happened, our thoughts went to the people there," said SVC coach Dan Engelstad. "Our first inclination was that this could be a powerful trip for our guys to help and be a part of rebuilding. Then we got an email that the tournament was shut down."

After the decision to cancel the tournament, the coaches of all the teams in the tournament had a dilemma.

"[All the coaches] had a call to figure out the next move," Engelstad said. "We wanted to play the games, didn't want to lose them, so we looked at different destinations."

Engelstad said he was connected through former Mount Anthony player Dan Bisaccio, who is now working as a video coordinator with the Miami Heat.

"Dan connected me with a guy running a tournament already, the coach at Eastern in Pennsylvania [Eric McNelley], I knew him as well," Engelstad said. "It was between there and Palm Beach and I pressed hard for Miami. Everyone was on board and we made the move."

For a pair of Mountaineers, the change in venue was a welcome one.

Junior Josh Borders and freshman KJ Kinsey each played their high school ball at Coral Springs Charter School in Florida about an hour from the site of this week's tournament, marking the first time their friends and families can be in the arena during one of their college games.

"Selfishly, I wanted to get Josh and KJ close to home if I could," Engelstad said. "It's going to be a great experience for our guys and a chance for [Josh and KJ] to play in front of their family. As a recruiter, you love to tell them you'll try to get them home and it worked out really well for us."

Borders, whose hometown is Fort Lauderdale, said the opportunity to play close to home is huge.

"It's very big, especially for my parents," Borders said. "They watch every game on the [college] live stream, but this is the first time they'll see me play in person in college."

Borders said on the day of his final high school game in February 2015, a loss in the Class 4A regional semifinals, his mom was sick and couldn't attend.

"It's going to be special [to have them there]," said Borders during an interview before a recent practice. "My parents have been my biggest fans all my life. My dad is also my biggest critic, but he pushed me to always excel and be the best I can be and my mom was the same way. This is definitely going to mean a lot to me.

In two-plus seasons at SVC, Borders has averaged nearly nine points a game, three rebounds and 2.5 assists.

This season, one of Borders' high school teammates in Kinsey, also came up to Vermont to join the Mountaineers.

Kinsey's hometown is Deerfield Beach, about 45 minutes from Miami.

"It's great to have someone from my side of town that speaks my language, who understands me a little more," Borders said. "I've known KJ since we were 10 and I've helped him as much as I possibly can and he's helped me as well."

Kinsey wasn't sure what he was going to do after high school. His high school coach told Kinsey to contact Engelstad to get more information on Southern Vermont.

"Coach Dan was interested in me and I weighed out my options, it was the right one for me," Kinsey said. "I had never been to Vermont before, so I prayed a lot about it and this door didn't open up for nothing. So after a few weeks, I decided to come here."

Kinsey said he can't remember the last time his family saw him play live.

"Being able to go to Miami, which isn't that far from home ... to make that trip is exciting," Kinsey said. "It's a blessing to have this opportunity. I'm excited about being able to see [my family] in the stands."

Kinsey said Borders helped him when he made the choice to come to SVC.

"He let me know what to expect and from there it was an easy decision," Kinsey said.

SVC plays Cortland today at 5 p.m., then faces Carthage College on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Both of the Mountaineers' opponents are receiving votes in the latest D3hoops.com Top 25 poll.

"I think Miami will be a really great experience for us, especially coming down from the cold," Engelstad said. "I remember being a player and how much it meant to have family and friends supporting you and to get that opportunity, any player would look forward to that."


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