HUNTINGTON — Marshall sophomore Taevion Kinsey instantly made a name for himself in Huntington with his incredible leaping ability and high-flying dunks.
Over the last week, however, Kinsey has been trying to get his legs back under him.
That’s because the Thundering Herd phenom recently went on a mission trip to China as part of a team put together by Reach USA, whose mission is to minister and build connections to God through sports.
While it wasn’t Kinsey’s first-ever trip abroad to play basketball, he said it was experience that he’ll never forget.
“We went over to represent God through sports, which I love to do with church,” Kinsey said. “I’ve always wanted to go to China, so it was a no-brainer. We also got to see what the competition is like there and the different styles that they use to play the game.”
During the trip, Kinsey and his teammates visited schools, which basically run the entire day and don’t allow much time for leisure activity, which is why the game is so precious to the kids there.
“It was definitely fun going over there,” Kinsey said. “They have some of the top schools in the world, and those kids being there, they don’t just get to see basketball much. They go to school from 8 in the morning until 4 p.m., then, they take a break for two hours, but come back from 6 p.m. to 10 at night. They rarely get to play basketball, so going over there to showcase our talent for them was pretty fun.”
One thing that Kinsey said he won’t soon forget is the celebrity status that he was treated with by those in Beijing as they watched he and his Reach USA teammates show their skills.
Everywhere Kinsey went, camera flashes went off as Chinese basketball fans crowded around to get pictures with the international athletes.
“They love the United States, and it was an honor just to go over there, represent our country and also Marshall University,” Kinsey said. “With basketball, every move and person in the NBA, they try to model their game after. There are so many great players over there that they could model their game after, but they love the United States brand of basketball. Everywhere you turn, someone is walking up and taking a picture of you.”
Being from Columbus, Kinsey is used to a pretty good-sized city in Ohio - much larger than Huntington.
However, even he marveled at the size of Beijing, which has 21 million people.
“It was huge! We got to Beijing and there’s so many people there,” Kinsey said. “Together, Columbus, Huntington and even New York doesn’t have that many people. It was just crazy to see that many people in one city. And there’s no traffic lights, so you have to get used to it. Everybody was fast and there’s no stop signs or anything. There’s not any accidents there and there’s not any violence. Their police and security don’t even carry guns. It’s so different.”
Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said the experience was much bigger than basketball for Kinsey. It was about personal growth and leadership, too.
“It makes you a better, more well-rounded person and that shows up on the court,” D’Antoni said. “He has a variety of things that he can draw from. He doesn’t just see things only where he grew up. It gives him a different perspective. For personal development, I think it’s great.”
Part of the reason why Kinsey has been trying to get his legs back this week is because he got to experience something many only dream of doing. Kinsey got to climb to the top of the Great Wall of China as part of his trip.
“I got to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” Kinsey said. “I went all the way to the top of the Great Wall of China. I stood up there for a minute and just took it all in. A lot of people can’t say that they’ve done that, so I just wanted to let that sink in.”
As interesting as the trip was for Kinsey, the story behind his involvement with Reach USA is just as fun for him to tell.
Those running the program with Reach USA are also involved as part of Western Kentucky’s bible study group, and they saw Kinsey during the season when he faced the Hilltoppers. The talent Kinsey showcased afforded him the opportunity that many NBA players have taken during their collegiate days, as well.
The story of Kinsey learning he had been selected? Well, that was a fun one, too.
At the time, Kinsey thought he had gotten in trouble instead of being selected for a prestigious overseas opportunity.
“One morning, I had class at 8 in the morning and my class got canceled, so I felt lucky that I was going to get back to sleep,” Kinsey said with a smile. “As I’m going back to sleep, Coach Corny (Jackson) calls me and says, ‘Get up! We need you to come to the office now.’
“I’m not a guy that gets in trouble, so I was scared that I got in trouble. I hopped out of bed and ran down there all the way from my dorm. I had sleep in my eye and was out of breath when I walked in, and all the coaches were sitting back there, so I really, really thought I was in trouble and I was trying to think of what I may have done.
“I was a mess - sweating, had sleep in my eyes, hadn’t even had a chance to brush my teeth because I knew they wanted me down there and it was early. But then Coach Dan (D’Antoni) said, ‘Congratulations. You’ve been chosen to play abroad with Reach USA.’ I texted my parents right then and there to ask and my Mom told me I was going.”
D’Antoni praised Kinsey because, in addition to being talented, he is building himself into a great ambassador for Marshall University, the basketball program and, now, the United States basketball scene.
“The thing that makes Taevion good is that he can absorb things quickly,” D’Antoni said. “He absorbs coaching, he absorbs culture, he absorbs people and friends. That part of him has been a tremendous asset for us.”
It was Kinsey’s third trip overseas for basketball. He said he has also been to Italy twice while also visiting Germany and Switzerland, as well.
The game of basketball has been good to Kinsey, and he said he wants to make sure that he can give back, whether that means through mission work or by showcasing his skills for the fans’ entertainment.
“Not many people can say they’ve been able to travel or do what I’ve done with basketball,” Kinsey said. “It’s definitely a blessing that I’m thankful for.”