BOYS BASKETBALL: For Frenchman Kenley Vincent, Bemidji is the latest stop on a worldwide tour

Vincent also took a previous foreign exchange trip to South Africa, an experience he credits with maturing him into the young man he is today.

Bemidji senior Kenley Vincent (31) dribbles the ball in the first half against Moorhead on Dec. 18, 2021, at Bemidji High School.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Kenley Vincent didn’t choose to come to Bemidji.

That may seem ironic, given he now lives here as an exchange student who originally hails from Toulon, France. But the Bemidji High School boys basketball senior had to jump through a few hoops just to end up in Northern Minnesota.

“As an exchange student, you have to write something about you,” Vincent said. “And your host family reads these things, and welcomes you into their family. So that's not my choice to say yes, I want to be there or there. It's my host family who chose me.”

The family that chose him was the McNallans, who have hosted a number of exchange students. The group includes Italian Filippo Buffo, who starred for Bemidji’s boys tennis team last year .

012622.S.BP.VINCENT Kenley Vincent with McNallans cropped.jpg
Kenley Vincent, center, poses for a photo with the McNallan family.

“I’m not the first one,” Vincent chuckled.


This also isn’t Vincent’s first time in another country. Originally from Haiti, he was adopted and moved to Toulon at age 4.

He also took a previous foreign exchange trip to South Africa, an experience he credits with maturing him into the young man he is today.

“The first time in South Africa was really good,” Vincent said. “I went to South Africa as a child, and I came back home as a man. When you are an exchange student, you see new things, you welcome new people. So your mind grows. And I wanted to grow more, to know more about myself. And I wanted to improve my English more, too.”

He’s been exposed to the cold, something he didn’t have to deal with living in Toulon. A port city, Toulon is located on the French Riviera, a region renowned for its stunning beaches and sparkling blue Mediterranean water. You can’t find either in northern Minnesota this time of year.

“I'm not used to negative 40 or 30,” Vincent said. “That's why my mom took me to Florida (for vacation). It was hard the first month, but now, I think it's OK. I'm used to it now.”

Vincent has also adjusted to the American style of basketball, transforming his training from a club-based approach to one that takes place at school. In France, sport is often divorced from scholarship, and players participate solely with clubs outside the academic umbrella.

Bemidji senior Kenley Vincent (31) shoots in the first half against Moorhead on Dec. 18, 2021, at Bemidji High School. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“I played for club (in Toulon),” he said. “It's more friendly. You play just for fun. You don't have video, you don't have your stats. And you don't play with part of the school. You just play with the club.”

Vincent doesn’t plan to pursue basketball at a higher level, saying he plays for the love of the game. The enjoyment he derives from the sport centers around something other than reaching the college or professional ranks.


“The teamwork, you're a family,” Vincent said. “You try hard to win. Some people have some weaknesses, some people have some strengths, but you play with both of them and try to win. And that's good. And you have a good vibe in everything.”

Beyond basketball, Vincent said he would like to return to the United States for college. His career goal is to be an actor, but not because he craves the spotlight.

“I would like to make people happier and to help people,” he said. “So the job I would like to do is to be an actor. To give (people) good emotions, to make people happier, to give people hope. To help people. That's my main goal.”

Right now, he’s thankful above all for the experiences he’s had, and he hopes to have some more before he heads back to France.

“I’ve met some amazing people,” Vincent said. “I have an amazing family. And I'm really grateful for everything I had this year.”

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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