How Kyle Hines became a legendary team-player icon in Europe

Photo: Olimpia Milano

Photo: Olimpia Milano

The big man signed a two-year contract with the italian powerhouse

Coach Mike Dement, his coach at UNC-Greensboro (the city where Olimpia’s great Bob McAdoo was born, by the way), one day called Kyle Hines to let him know what he was doing. He was about to become the sixth player in history to have accumulated at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 career blocked shots. The other five? Four draft number 1 picks (Pervis Ellison, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Derrick Coleman) and a number 2 pick (Alonzo Mourning). Not bad, for a guy from Sicklerville (“Just a Kid From Sicklerville” is the title of a series of self-produced documentaries), New Jersey, but located in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, who despite a great high school career had only two offers from Division One colleges. One was from Rider and the other one from UNC-Greensboro, the one he chose.

When coach Fran McCaffery left after Hines’first year with the Spartans, Hines was allowed to do the same, but despite a great season and some proposals, he decided to stay at his small bur proud school. As a junior he became the Southern Conference Player of the year, as a senior he finished second. Not because he averaged two less points per game, but because the award went to a player named Steph Curry from Davidson College. But it was nothing compared to what happened later, four EuroLeague championships, eight consecutive Final Four trips, a two-time defensive player of the year award. Kyle Hines has becaome a team-player icon, some kind of Dino Meneghin of modern times.

Kyle and his younger brother Tyler (who played at Maryland-Eastern Shore and later in Europe) received and advice from their mother, Deidre, when they were both very young. They should have gone to college, but they would have had to do it with a scholarship, without resorting to loans that would have been repaid only after years of work and sacrifices. The two boys listened, and both got their sport scholarships. In Timber Creek, the high school they both attended, Kyle wore the number 42. This is a story too: his coach was Gary Saunders, who at Long Island’s Roosevelt High School in the 1960’s had been a teammate of Julius Erving, the legendary Doctor J: in those days, Erving played with the number 42. Saunders decided that Hines had a similar personality and wanted him to wear the 42. The one that he wore at UNC-Greensboro has since been retired.

After his college career finished, Hines tried-out for Oklahoma City and Charlotte, and attended the Cleveland minicamp, but eventually opted to begin his professional career in Europe, playing two years in Veroli. In two years, he won twice the Legadue’s Italian Cup. Its general manager at the time was former Olimpia’s great Antonello Riva. The Veroli seasons launched him to decidedly higher levels. In Bamberg, Germany, where he won everything, he made his EuroLeague debut. He played well enough to convince Olympiacos to take him to Greece and in Athens his career exploded: in two years he won a Greek title, but mostly he will be remembered for the two consecutive EuroLeague championships that his team conquered. In his first year, he did not play a great Final Four, but he was decisive in the quarterfinal series won against Siena. In the three Olympiacos wins, he scored 49 points and had 20 rebounds. The following season, at the London’s Final Four, he had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinal win over CSKA and 12 points (4/4 from the field, 4/5 from the line), five rebounds, three steals and three blocks in the final game, against Real Madrid. “I have always had a special relationship with Olympiacos’fans because it is the place that allowed me to get where I got. Without Olympiacos, I wouldn’t have had this career and the memories there are special,” he said.

Kyle Hines won the EuroLeague two more times in Moscow, in 2016 and again in 2019 when he played alongside Sergio Rodriguez. At CSKA, where he was coached by Ettore Messina in his first season there, he twice became the defensive player of the year and, finally, in the past few months he was included in the All-EuroLeague team of the decade. “When I started playing in the EuroLeague, in Bamberg, I would never have imagined anything like this, such a long career, all the wins and all the Final Fours,” he confessed recently after learning of his inclusion among the top 10 EuroLeague players of the past ten years. In Moscow, Hines arrived in 2013, and his Final Four appearances streak has continued since then. The first one was in Milan. Then he won the championship in 2016 and 2019. “In my career I was lucky: I played near Rome and saw the Colosseum, I was in Athens and I walked on the track of the first modern Olympics, I was in Moscow regularly passing through the Red Square. And basketball has taken me to places that I would never have seen otherwise,” he confessed to the Philadelphia Inquirer a few months ago. During the summer, he is active with camps and activities for kids, working along his brother Tyler. “When I was a child there were no camps and opportunities in our area, we had to go outside or in the Philadelphia area, so we thought we would help the kids in our position,” he explained.

In March 2018, through the EuroLeague website, he recited a sort of letter to the younger Kyle Hines, the one who had just left UNC-Greensboro, but had not heard his name called at the NBA draft. “I know that you are disappointed, angry – he said to his younger self – but you shouldn’t be, indeed you should smile because you are about to embark on a journey that will change your life forever. The first hint: get your passport ready, because over the next 10 years it will be useful and full of stamps. We will start from a freak city, where the fans are crazy about basketball, you will learn to be a professional and to win. From there, you will go to Olympiacos where you will find a legendary coach like Dusan Ivkovic. He will be a professor and teach you everything you need to learn. And then you will know Vassilis Spanoulis: you will understand how to be a champion, just looking at him. And then Georgios Printezis with whom you will fight every day in practice. You will see his funny shot, but don’t laugh, because it is one of the most effective shots in basketball. With them you will win two European titles, and you will be championship spoiled. And then CSKA Moscow, where you can feel comfortable because you will stay there for a while. Dimitris Itoudis will teach you to be a true professional, will help you understand how to lead, how to be a better player and a better person. And there you will play with great players, Andrei Kirilenko, Sasha Kaun, Viktor Khryapa, Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic, Nando De Colo and Sergio Rodriguez. They will push you to another level, the one where you fight every day. You will have to raise your talent level, just to keep up with them. My best advice is to have fun: enjoy every moment. As an athlete every year your goal is to be better than the previous one. But make sure you enjoy every moment, keep working and grinding. And, finally, be grateful to the players, the fans, all the people you will meet in the coming years. Without their support you will have nothing. Keep smiling and be happy.”

He has come a long way, the “kid” from Sicklerville, with just to offers to play Division One ball, undrafted, too small to play center, not fast enough or a good enough shooter to play on the perimeter, forced to start his incredible journey from the Italian second league, in a small outpost named Veroli before becoming one of the greatest winners in the history of European basketball, twice defensive player of the year, a leader and a legend. As a young man he looked at Spanoulis to learn how to be a champion. In Milan, many player will look to him to learn exactly the same lesson.

Source: Olimpia Milano.

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