From UnderDog to Top Dog.
New MyHoopJourney.com writer Stefan Jovanovic profiles Kyle Hines basketball journey from growing up in Philadelphia/South Jersey watching Charles Barkley to his career playing in Europe the past 10 years.
Kyle Hines is one of the most prominent superstars in today’s European basketball. With his versatility and positional flexibility, the 196-centimeter tall center has become a pioneer in an era where the classic big man is slowly becoming an option from the bench rather than a standard need. For some he may be considered lucky, being a professional basketball player in the so called ”small ball” era, but for Kyle, everything has always been about hard work, showing heart and having a chip on his shoulders.
And it all began in ”The City of Brotherly Love.” - I grew up watching players like Charles Barkley and Clarence Weatherspoon. They were my father’s favorite players at the time, and they were considered undersized big men as well, so those were role models that kind of influenced me to becom e the player I am today, and also the fact that I grew up in Philadelphia. We all played a hard nosed and physical type of basketball out there. I think my size benefits me because taller players often underestimate me. It’s like a chip on my shoulder; I want to show people that size doesn’t matter and that I can play and compete on this level.
After attending both Camden Catholic High and Timber Creek Regional High School, Hines was recruited by The University of North Carolina at Greensboro by coach Fran McCaffery. During his four years with the program he averaged 18,25 points per game, 8,7 rebounds per game and 2,9 blocks per game, earning Player of The Year honors in the Southern Conference in his third year. It seemed that size still mattered to everyone not offering him scholarships. - I tried to embrace my lack of height. I mean, once I realized I wasn’t getting any taller I started just to figure out what was the best way for me to develop and how I could use my abilities to make sure I could compete and play at a high level. I was trying to use the rim more with different angles, use my quickness, leaping ability and strength to compensate.
And size still mattered for NBA executives. - I was hoping to get drafted. It’s a dream for every basketball player in the world to hear their name called on draft night. When I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I obviously got disappointed, but the day after I had a long talk with my grandmother and she immediately made me feel better about it. She told me that it was up to me to prove everybody wrong and that God has a plan for everyone. His plan was for me not to get drafted that night. Up to this day, I use her words as motivation to prove people wrong.
Leaving home is always difficult but leaving for another country on another continent is hard. A young Kyle Hines ended up signing for Veroli Basket in the Italian second tier. - It was hard leaving home for Italy the first time. There I was, a guy who lived in his home town his whole life and now leaving for a country I never been to before. I didn’t know much about Italy in general, and I didn’t know anything about the city of Veroli. European basketball was something new and a bit strange to me a the time, but the coach eased up my nervousness. As an Italian with an American passport, coach Andrea Trinchieri understood the Americans and the American way. It was also helpful to have a lot of veteran guys on the team, guys that have played at a high level. They taught me how to be professional and about life in general. Those guys kind of laid the foundation for me as a professional basketball player.
Being used to be the star of his University team, Kyle Hines found it difficult at first to adjust to the European game. College basketball is played at a high pace and often with a lot of transition, but this was something different.
– It was hard to adjust to the style. Coming out of college in 2008, I always had the ball in my hands, having isolation plays drawn up for me and just run up and down the court a lot. Here, everything is more systematic and structured with a lot of pick and rolls. It’s about the team. I struggled for a month and a half but once I learned the concept of making the open pass and apply the details to my game, then my game changed and I had more success on the court.
Coming out of college and not getting drafted is something that usually either makes or break a player. For Kyle, going to the second division in Italy right after that, wasn’t a problem. He embraces the fact that he alone was responsible for creating his destiny. During his two years with Veroli, he won the Italian Second Division Cup twice and earned MVP honors in 2009, which made him getting looks from bigger clubs rather than being over looked.
– I moved to Brose Bambergs Baskets after my two seasons with Veroli, and when I arrived, I came to an established team. They won the German league the year before my arrival and had their main pieces in place. I came to a team that already established a culture and a system that was all about winning. It wasn’t hard, but it was a little difficult to just adapt to that in the beginning. I went from averaging 20 points per game in Veroli to making ten a game, getting fewer touches and also getting a more particular role. I always say that going to Bamberg taught me how to win. I had to make sacrifices as a player. Germany was the place where I learned what European basketball was all about.
Once establishing his position as an attractive player on the European market, Olympiacos knocked on the door. The Greek powerhouse was considered being a sleeping giant, not winning a league title since 1997, and with Kyle Hines arrival the franchise made a change for the better.
– When my agent told me I was on Olympiacos radar, I didn’t believe him at first. Why would they be interested in me? It was and still is, a club with a beautiful and rich history, winning a lot of titles and having great fans. It was huge for me to get the opportunity to play for them at 24 years of age, but it wasn’t obvious for them to sign me at first. It took one of their assistants almost two weeks to convince coach Dusan Ivkovic to sign me. Again, players with my size in my position was a rare sight at the time.
With Olympiacos Kyle won back to back Euroleague titles in 2012 and 2013, also completing the double in 2012 with winning the Greek league title, being one of the teams most important players on both ends of the floor.
– Nobody expected anything of my teammates and me. We had a young team with all players being in their early 20’s and were unaccomplished except for Vassilis Spanoulis. I said it from the beginning and as soon as I got there that we would win a lot of titles. I even wrote it on the board in the locker room: ”Many wins, many titles”. I was also happy to be able to prove that I didn’t just play but rather belonged on the big stage.
In 2013 Hines decided to opt out of his contract with Olympiacos and leave for one, of the biggest club on the old continent.
– I wanted to be a part of CSKA because of its great history being a consistent Euroleague contender. I wanted to win in Europe with them and make the fans forget about their recent heartbreaks. I didn’t want to leave Olympiacos at all, but this was a great opportunity for me in so many aspects.
Today, Russia is Kyle’s home away from home. He loves it there and would like to stay for a long time.
– I love Moscow and Russia. At first, it was a difficult adjustment coming from a city like Athens regarding mentality and the culture of the city. You hear a lot of people talk about Russian stereotypes and in general a lot of bad things about the country. For me, living here for the last four years, It’s been a great experience. Russia has a great history and a vibrant culture. My family loves the city, and the people here have been accommodating towards us. Moscow is one of the best cities in the world. Kyle’s had a successful career, winning both league titles and international competition with every club he has played for in his career. He knows what it takes to win and likes to share his knowledge with other young players aspiring of playing overseas.
– If you try to play on a high level and compete, whether that’s in the Euroleague or the NBA, you have to remind yourself to work towards your goal every day. There’s a lot of things and situations that just happen on a daily basis, and that might not necessarily make sense to you at the time, but it will benefit you in the long run. Remember your goal and just keep striving towards it. There’s a lot of good examples to learn from and follow, where players have achieved their dreams. Also, when you get to a new country try to learn about the culture. For me, I have learned the fundamentals of every language in the countries I played to make my life easier. While English might be the most spoken language in the world, it’s not necessarily the most spoken where you’re going. I don’t like to depend on others in that aspect.
Right now Kyle’s with his family in Sicklerville, New Jersey, enjoying a couple of weeks off. When he gets back to Russia he’ll resign with CSKA Moscow for another two years and continue to do what he’s been doing his whole life; working hard, showing heart and always playing with a chip on his big shoulders.