March 6, 2014 10:24:27 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Four years ago Colin Borchert's mother had a four-word message to any college coach that would listen: Please save my son.
Borchert's mother, Vickey Rzepecki, immediately knew her son was going down a very destructive path in his adolescent life and basketball might be a saving grace for him. So years ago, she began e-mailing and calling every coach she could find hoping they'd take a chance on her 6-foot-8 son skilled with a basketball in his hands. When asked what might happen if his mother hadn't done this campaign for him, Borchert is brutally honest with himself.
"I thought I would've dropped out of college already, sitting home working at McDonald's," Borchert said. "Without basketball, I might be in jail, I don't know. I saw bad things coming and didn't want to go down that path."
Instead of having a future marred with a bad environment or worse, Borchert is just months away from receiving his degree from Mississippi State in human sciences. He and fellow senior Tyson Cunningham will play in their final home game Saturday when the Bulldogs (13-17, 3-14 in Southeastern Conference) host South Carolina in the regular season finale.
Four years ago, Borchert entered his senior season at Glendale Mountain Ridge High School in Phoenix, Ariz., ranked as the top high school prospect in his home state by one scouting service. He was listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com but his maturity issues and off-the-court red flags made him an overlooked commodity. Borchert had offers from USC, Kentucky, California, Nebraska, and UNLV as a three-star recruit but had to go the junior college route because he was unable to academically qualify as a Division 1 college basketball player.
While Borchert was struggling socially and academically at Yavapai Junior College in Prescott, Ariz., one person who answered the Rzepecki's desperate call was East Mississippi Community coach Mark White. White was willing to bring in the immature forward and make him an immediate part of his program and more importantly to Borchert, part of his family.
"My mom put me in a situation where I couldn't fail," Borchert said. "Coach White and his wife are pretty much the reasons I passed my classes at EMCC. Ms. White made me do three hours of studying just because I needed it because I had to succeed."
By sending her son nearly 1,600 miles east to Scooba, Miss., Rzepecki is at least partially responsible for changing her son's perspective on life. Having never been in Mississippi before, Borchert found discipline two time zones from the only home he's ever known. He mixed back-to-back semesters of 21 credit hours of classes between averaging 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds for a EMCC team that reached the national junior college Division I men's tournament two years ago.
"I didn't want to let down any of these people that were helping me and pushing me because of the love they gave me and how much my parents cared about me sending me out here," Borchert said. "It touched my heart and made me not fail."
It was at EMCC that MSU assistant coach George Brooks saw Borchert be successful on the floor. When Brooks was retained as member of the old Bulldogs staff by new coach Rick Ray in 2012, he was asked to go find a stretch power forward that could score. Brooks didn't even need a full tank of gas for that recruiting answer.
"When Coach Ray described the type of (power forward) he wanted to have and asked if I knew of any unsigned players like that, I smiled," Brooks said. "I laughed and said 'yeah there's one just down the road we can sign and let's go do that'."
Borchert immediately committed to MSU and signed a week later as one of the first recruits in Rick Ray's new era in Starkville.
"He is a really skilled big man and that's something everybody will see from day one with Colin," White said when Borchert signed in May 2012. "He has the ability to step out and hit the three-pointer consistently and made more from beyond the arc than anybody else on our team. That's the skill that impressed Coach Ray the most."
The plan for Borchert after he signed was for him to immediately begin a summer workout program with strength coaches while he began taking classes at MSU. All of this busy schedule underplayed the overall purpose of keeping Borchert in an environment that would be least likely for him to revert to the immature kid he was out on the west coast.
"He won't be going home to Phoenix," White said.
Rzepecki's dream, like any mother for their child, was now coming true. Her son had learned the value of hard work both on the basketball floor and in the classroom. He had received an associates degree and would now be given the opportunity to earn a four-year degree from a basketball program that played on national television. And then, as common with stories of redemption, a bump in the road of Borchert's journey was found.
Ray was informed before the start of the 2012-13 season that Borchert would need to be suspended for what the university called 'a violation of team rules' and the Bulldogs forward was not allowed to make the trip to the Maui Invitational Tournament.
"I've grown a lot as a person, human being as a man and I think you could ask any of the coaches and they'd say the exact same thing," Borchert said. "I was very immature and it's no secret there's a reason why I came to Mississippi. I overcome a lot of things. I grew up. I figured out what I wanted in life."
It would be the last and only time Borchert would be suspended by Ray for the rest of his career. From that moment, he would earn the right to make 47 starts for the MSU program that he said Monday he'll take some personal ownership in its future success.
"Hopefully they'll look back at our time and think 'we have to be better than them' because they went through so much stuff beyond basketball," Borchert said. "Rick Ray has taught me and this group of guys how you can succeed when you come from nothing."
In his MSU career, Borchert has averaged 9.1 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game and is still hoping he can continue his journey in professional basketball in a overseas capacity.
"I like new adventures and I like to travel a little bit," Borchert said. "I like to experience new things and if I could travel the world, I would absolutely do that and see new cultures."
Borchert's mother can feel better about the final time her son could hear his name at Humphrey Coliseum: his graduation day at MSU. Now 22 years old, Borchert's future is so much brighter and with possibilities because his mother's goal will soon be complete. Vickey Rzepecki can consider her son saved.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.